The Professional’s Guide to Parkinson’s Disease

The Professional’s Guide
to Parkinson’s Disease
occupational therapist
social worker
speech and language therapist
Written by…
Ana Aragon Dip COT
Specialist Occupational Therapist for Parkinson's Disease, Bath & North East Somerset PCT
Bhanu Ramaswamy MCSP, Grad Dip Phys
Consultant Physiotherapist in Intermediate Care, Derbyshire County PCT
Dr J Campbell Ferguson MB, ChB, FRCP (Glasgow & Edinburgh)
Retired Consultant Physician, Ayrshire
Catherine Jones MRCSLT
Speech and Language Therapist, West Kent PCT
Charles Tugwell, BPharm, MSc, ACPP, MRPharmS, MCLIP
Clinical Pharmacist, Neurology/Neurosurgery, Senior Directorate Pharmacist, Head & Neck,
The Royal London Hospital, Barts and The London NHS Trust
Dr Chris Taggart MBChB, FRCGP
General Practitioner & Coventry GP Postgraduate Tutor, Tile Hill Primary Care Centre
Fiona Lindop MCSP, Grad Dip Phys
Senior Physiotherapist, Derby Hospitals Foundation Trust
Karen Durrant MCSP, Grad Dip Phys
Superintendent Physiotherapist, Derbyshire County PCT
Karen Green BSc, MSc
Senior Specialist Dietitian (Neurosciences), The National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery
Karen Hyland Dip Diet, PGDip, RD
Team Leader, Nutrition and Dietetics, Barnet PCT
Sarah Barter BSc (Hons), DipSW
Registered Social Worker, General Social Care Council; Community Support Worker, Taunton and Minehead
Stella Gay RGN, BSc (Hons), PGDip Clinical Neuroscience
Parkinson’s Disease Nurse Specialist, East Elmbridge and Mid Surrey PCT
With thanks to…
Alison Forbes RGN
Parkinson’s Disease Nurse Specialist, Kings College, London
Dr Anna Jones PhD, BA, Grad Dip Phys, MCSP
Principal Lecturer/CETL4HealthNE Fellow, School of Health, Community and Education Studies,
Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne
Anna Kissick MSc, MRCSLT
Community Speech & Language Therapist, East Elmbridge and Mid Surrey PCT
Annette Hand MA, Dip HE, RGN
Nurse Consultant – Parkinson's Disease, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust
Eric Skinner
Staff Development Officer, Social Services Department, Somerset County Council
Jane Hall MSc, MCSP
Senior Physiotherapist, Elderly Rehabilitation, East Elmbridge and Mid Surrey PCT
Julia Johnson MSc, LRCSLT
Clinical Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, Kings College Hospital Foundation Trust
Liz Scott BA (Hons), RGN
Parkinson’s Disease Nurse Specialist, Buckinghamshire Hospitals NHS Trust
The Professional’s Guide
to Parkinson’s Disease
There are 120,000 people in the UK with Parkinson’s
disease. This means it is likely that as a health or
social care professional you regularly encounter people
whose lives are affected by the condition.
Expert professional care can make a huge difference
to the quality of life of those affected. The Parkinson’s
Disease Society (PDS) is committed to supporting
professionals to deliver care of the highest quality and
have therefore produced this guide for some of the key
groups of professionals working in the field.
When we started this project we consulted many
professionals to get their views on whether we should
continue to produce information in separate packs
aimed at different disciplines. The response was
unanimous: all were in favour of bringing information
together in one publication so it would be possible to
cross-reference between sections to get a holistic view
of the condition. This reflects the growing recognition
of the importance of the multidisciplinary approach in
the management of Parkinson’s.
The guide is written by experts from different
professionals groups and is divided into eight sections,
each tailored to the relevant discipline:
occupational therapist
social worker
speech and language therapist
Of course there are many more professionals involved
with people with Parkinson’s and we hope this guide
will be a useful source of information for all of you.
The significance of the multidisciplinary team was
highlighted in the 2006 NICE Guideline for Parkinson’s,
which signals the importance of access to specialist
diagnosis, regular reviews, Parkinson’s Disease Nurse
Specialists, therapists and palliative care. It is
important that commissioners build services in
accordance with the Guideline and the PDS is working
with commissioners and health and social care
professionals to support this process.
One particular area in which PDS and health and
social care professionals are collaborating effectively to
improve care is in relation to medicines management
in hospitals and care homes. The Society’s ‘Get it on
time’ campaign aims to ensure that people with
Parkinson’s get their medication on time, every time,
as the timing of medication is crucial to their wellbeing.
Hospital stays can be extended if medication is not
managed properly and the person concerned is likely
to require a higher level of care, at a significant cost
in both time and resources to health services.
Please contact us if you would like a ‘Get it on time’
campaign pack to help you make improvements in your
area of practice.
The PDS will continue working to develop close links
with professionals, who also play a key role in putting
people in touch with the Society for further support
and advice. Together we must reach every single
person in the UK living with Parkinson’s, to ensure they
do not feel alone with their condition and have access
to the highest quality services and support.
Further resources for professionals are available online
About the Parkinson’s
Disease Society
The Parkinson’s Disease Society (PDS) was
established in 1969 and now has nearly 30,000
members, over 40,000 supporters and more than 330
branches and support groups throughout the UK.
We provide support and advice to people with
Contact us
You can write to us at the following email addreses:
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
Parkinson’s, their carers, families and friends, and to
[email protected]
health and social services professionals involved in
[email protected]
management and care. Our free Helpline service,
staffed by registered nurses and expert advisers, deals
with more than 20,000 enquiries a year by telephone,
email and letter.
We also produce a wealth of information for everyone
affected by Parkinson’s. Full details of all the resources
available can be found on the PDS website.
Research is also a major focus of the PDS’s work.
Around a quarter of our total budget is spent on
supporting projects that aim to identify and improve
treatments, gain a greater understanding of the causes
of the condition and, ultimately, develop a cure, which
will allow people with Parkinson’s to live a life that is
free from the symptoms of the condition.
We also campaign for high-quality health and social
care for all people with Parkinson’s and their carers
at a national and local level. We believe that all people
with Parkinson’s should have easy access to highquality healthcare and the help and support they need.
Or you can call our freephone Helpline on 0808 800 0303,
Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm (except bank holidays),
Saturdays, 10am to 2pm. (The Helpline is a confidential
service. Calls are free from UK landlines and some
mobile networks.)
About Parkinson’s disease
The dietitian’s guide to Parkinson’s disease
Diet and nutrition in Parkinson’s
Who is likely to be referred to you?
Case study
Relevant resources from the PDS
References and further reading
The GP’s guide to Parkinson’s disease
Motor symptoms
Non-motor symptoms (NMS)
Relevant resources from the PDS
Useful websites and further reading
The nurse’s guide to Parkinson’s disease
Bowel and bladder dysfunction
Bowel dysfunction
Treatment and management of bowel dysfunction
Bladder dysfunction
Treatment and management of bladder dysfunction
Useful contacts
Communication and swallowing problems
Communication difficulties in Parkinson’s
Swallowing difficulties in Parkinson’s (dysphagia)
How can a nurse help?
Complementary therapies
Points to consider
Drug management
What kinds of drug treatments are available?
Drugs currently used in Parkinson’s
Nursing issues of drug management in Parkinson’s
Mobility problems
Mobility problems specific to Parkinson’s
Other key issues in the management of mobility in Parkinson’s
Neuropsychiatric problems
Mental dysfunction in Parkinson’s
Sexual function and intimate relationships
What can be a problem?
Other causes of sexual dysfunction
How can a nurse help?
Relevant resources from the PDS
References and further reading
The occupational therapist’s guide to Parkinson’s disease
Priorities for therapy
Communication issues
Useful communication strategies
Apathy and motivation
The benefits and frustrations of aids and equipment
Learning and memory
Intrinsic cues and triggers
Extrinsic cues and triggers
Visual cues
Auditory cues
Interventions for some common functional and daily-living issues associated with
having Parkinson’s
Poor medication compliance
Mood, motivation and initiative
Cognition and perception
Visio-spatial problems
Hand function
Mobility and gait disturbances
Methods for reducing the risk of falls
Some general strategies for improving gait and balance
Early morning and self-care routines
Poor saliva control
Night-time issues
Relevant resources from the PDS
References and further reading
The pharmacist’s guide to Parkinson’s disease
Drug therapy
Drug groups
Pharmaceutical care issues
Relevant resources from the PDS
Further reading
The physiotherapist’s guide to Parkinson’s disease
Movement abnormalities in Parkinson’s disease appropriate for physiotherapy
The basal ganglia: implications for physiotherapists
The limbic system: implications for physiotherapists
Disease progression
Physiotherapy interventions
Assessment tools and considerations
Posture – including range of joint movement
Functional gait – including freezing and indoor and outdoor mobility
Balance and falls
Bed mobility
Muscle strength and power
Condition of feet and footwear
Effects of Parkinson’s on functional ability, wellbeing and quality of life
Concepts and projects to inform intervention
Required physiotherapy skills for treatment of people with Parkinson’s
Cueing and movement strategies
Rehabilitation in early onset Parkinson’s
Long-term management
Outcome measurements
Relevant resources from the PDS
Useful websites
References and further reading
The social worker’s guide to Parkinson’s disease
Assessment – communicate and engage
Implications for care packages
A to Z of considerations for the social worker
Aids and adaptions
Domestic care
End-of-life care
Living alone
Meal provision
Nursing or residential care
Social activities
Younger carers
Younger people
Useful contacts
Relevant resources from the PDS
References and further reading
The speech and language therapist’s guide to
Parkinson’s disease
Communication and Parkinson’s disease
The nature of speech and language presentation in Parkinson’s
Progression of speech and voice symptoms in Parkinson’s
Evidence-based treatment methods and applications
Augmentative and alternative communication systems (AAC)
Swallowing in Parkinson’s disease
Saliva management
Speech and language therapy checklist
Useful contacts
Relevant resources from the PDS
References and further reading
About Parkinson’s disease
What is Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological
condition, resulting from the degeneration of dopamineproducing neurones in the substantia nigra, which is
located within the basal ganglia, deep in the lower
region of the brain, on either side of the brain stem.
Microscopic deposits known as Lewy bodies are
formed within dopamine-producing neurons and are
characteristic of the pathology of the condition. Clinical
signs of Parkinson's are evident when about 80% of the
dopamine-producing neurons are lost.
Parkinson’s affects functional activities such as balance,
walking, speech, handwriting, typing, fastening buttons,
driving, and many other simple, or complex but familiar
and routine activities, as they are usually controlled by
the mechanisms of dopamine and the basal ganglia.
Motor symptoms
The main motor symptoms of Parkinson’s are:
Bradykinesia – slowness of movement
Rigidity – raised tone, which may be asymmetrical, or
limited to certain muscle groups
Tremor – involuntary shaking, trembling or quivering
movements of the muscles. It is caused by the muscles
alternately contracting and relaxing at a rapid pace
Postural instability – balance problems, usually
presenting as a later feature of ‘classic’ (idiopathic)
These symptoms are explored in more detail throughout
this Guide.
Non-motor symptoms
Parkinson’s is predominantly a movement disorder, but
there is a growing awareness that it is also associated
with many other problems that do not directly affect
motor function. These non-motor features are of crucial
importance since they have a major impact on quality
of life.
Dopamine is a major neurochemical messenger that
promotes the functions of the basal ganglia, which is
also where the dopamine is produced. The basal
ganglia’s role is to orchestrate the performance of
NMS dominate the clinical picture of advanced
Parkinson’s but are often poorly recognised and
insufficiently treated. Early recognition is essential and
use of the multidisciplinary approach is paramount.
well-learnt, voluntary and semi-automatic motor skills
and movement sequences. Dopamine also contributes
Anxiety disorders Anxiety disorders are common in
Parkinson’s. Anxiety can present as panic attacks or
generalised anxiety, and can often be related to druginduced motor fluctuations. They may also be present in
to other cognitive processes, such as maintaining and
switching focus of attention, motivation, mood,
problem-solving, decision-making and visual perception.
advance of the onset of the motor symptoms of
the condition.
Apathy Apathy is now known to be a particular
symptom of Parkinson’s, independent of depression
and fatigue.
Depression Depression in Parkinson’s appears to be
related to the degeneration of dopaminergic neurones
in limbic and pre-frontal systems. Depression may
present with feelings of guilt, helplessness, remorse
or sadness.
Psychosis and visual hallucinations Hallucinations
and other forms of psychotic behaviours occur in
around 40% of individuals with Parkinson’s who are on
dopaminergic therapy. Psychotic symptoms can take
the form of vivid visual hallucinations. Auditory and
olfactory hallucinations are less common and may be
associated with visual hallucinations or present
independently. Delusional thinking can also occur.
Dementia A significant number of people with
Parkinson’s will develop cognitive changes severe
enough to warrant a diagnosis of dementia. Dementia
in Parkinson’s is progressive and characterised by a
severe dysexecutive syndrome, with impairment of
visuospatial abilities and marked cognitive slowing.
Autonomic disturbance (dysautonomia)
Urinary dysfunction Bladder dysfunction in Parkinson’s
can affect up to 40% of individuals. The earliest and
most commonly reported complaint is nocturia (waking
at night one or more times to void) followed by urgency,
frequency and urge incontinence.
Constipation Constipation occurs frequently in
Parkinson’s, affecting over 50% of individuals. It is
one of the most common non-motor symptoms and
can precede development of the condition.
Sexual dysfunction The most commonly reported
sexual problem for men with Parkinson’s is erectile
dysfunction; for women it is difficulty with arousal
(genital sensitivity or lubrication), orgasmic difficulty,
dyspareunia or vaginismus.
Orthostatic (postural) hypotension Orthostatic
hypotension can occur in up to 48% of people with
Parkinson’s. It is defined as a fall in systolic blood
pressure of over 20mmHg on standing. Patients who are
experiencing orthostatic hypotension may complain of
dizziness, visual disturbances, falling or fainting. It can be
due to central or peripheral autonomic dysfunction but it
can also occur as a result of Parkinson’s medications,
antihypertensives or co-morbidities, such as anaemia.
Sleep disturbances
Weight loss Unintended weight loss is common
Most people with Parkinson’s will have problems with
in Parkinson’s, occurring in over 50% of individuals.
sleep. The causes are multifactorial but degeneration
Moderate or severe dyskinesia can be the cause
of the sleep regulation centres in the brainstem and
but if significant loss occurs, other medical causes
thalamocortical pathway is implicated.
(eg malignancy, endocrine causes), dysphagia or
poor diet should be considered and referral to the
Nocturnal non-motor symptoms These include
appropriate discipline instigated.
restless legs syndrome (RLS) and rapid eye movement
(REM) sleep behaviour disorder (RBD). RBD is
characterised by loss of the normal skeletal muscle
atonia during REM sleep, resulting in people physically
acting out their dream, and can precede the
development of the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s
in up to 40% of patients.
Dysphagia Swallowing difficulties in Parkinson’s
usually relate to disease severity and may affect all
phases of the swallow process. There is a risk of
aspiration pneumonia, malnutrition and dehydration.
Dysphagia poses a major problem to the taking of
medications that are critical in the successful
management of Parkinson’s.
Excessive daytime sleepiness Excessive daytime
sleepiness and dozing affects up to 50% of people
with Parkinson’s. It can occur early in the disease,
sometimes predating the clinical diagnosis of
Parkinson’s. Causes include the disease itself –
particularly in cases of dementia with Lewy bodies
and Parkinson’s disease dementia – poor sleep and
anti-Parkinson’s drugs.
Hyperhidrosis Excessive sweating may occur as an
end-of-dose ‘off’ phenomenon or while in the ‘on’
motor state. It is usually associated with dyskinesias.
Sialorrhoea Excess saliva or drooling occurs in
70–80% of people with Parkinson’s. Apart from
social embarrassment and soiling of clothing, sialorrhoea
may also be associated with perioral infection.
Sensory disturbance
Pain Pain is common in Parkinson’s and can occur
in up to 50% of patients. Patients may complain of
sensory-type pains, that include paraesthesias, burning
dyesthesias, coldness, numbness and deep aching
within a nerve (neuropathic pain). Pain may be related
to motor fluctuations or early morning dystonia and can
also be a result of musculoskeletal pain secondary to
parkinsonian rigidity and hypokinesia.
parkin (PARK2), ubiquitin carboxy-terminal hydroxylase
L1 (PARK5), PINK1 (PARK6), DJ1 protein (PARK7),
LRRK2 protein (PARK8), the nuclear receptor NURR1,
HTRA2 and tau.
In a majority of cases, however, Parkinson’s is not
hereditary. At present, it is estimated that up to 5% of
cases may have a genetic cause. The remaining 95%
are considered ‘idiopathic’. Scientists believe that while
some people may have a genetic susceptibility to
Olfaction Olfactory dysfunction eventually affects up
to 90% of patients with Parkinson’s and is a potential
pre-clinical marker of the disease.
developing Parkinson’s, the condition is only triggered
The PDS has produced the Non-Motor Symptoms
Questionnaire, which can be completed by patients prior
to consultation with their GP or nurse. This helps to
highlight any non-motor symptoms that require treatment.
There is some evidence that environmental factors
following exposure to other factors.
Environmental factors
(such as toxins) may cause dopamine-producing
nerve cells to die, leading to the development of
Parkinson’s. Several toxins, including the chemical
MPTP, have been shown to cause Parkinson-like
Who gets Parkinson’s?
symptoms. There may also be a link between the
One in 500 people in the UK have Parkinson’s.
Statistically, men are slightly more likely to develop
the condition than women.
use of herbicides and pesticides and the development
The risk of developing Parkinson’s increases with
age, and symptoms often appear after the age of 50.
Some people may not be diagnosed until they are in
their seventies or eighties.
However, in some cases, Parkinson’s is diagnosed
before the age of 40, and this is known as young-onset
Parkinson’s disease. If Parkinson’s is diagnosed before
the age of 18, it is known as juvenile Parkinson’s,
although this is extremely rare. More information is
available in the PDS’s Juvenile Parkinson’s
information sheet.
of Parkinson’s.
It is important that there is an early diagnosis. If the
condition is suspected, a patient should be quickly
referred – untreated – to a neurologist or a geriatrician
with a special interest in Parkinson’s. The NICE
Guideline on the diagnosis and management of
Parkinson’s says referral time should be no more than
six weeks and should not exceed two weeks in cases
where the condition is severe or complex.
The condition is diagnosed following a detailed clinical
examination. There are no laboratory tests or easily
available imaging tests to help make the diagnosis.
What causes Parkinson’s?
The cause(s) of Parkinson’s is unknown. Most researchers
believe that multiple factors play a contributory role in
causing Parkinson’s and that it is likely to be caused a
combination of both genetic and environmental
factors. Mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress
have also been implicated in neurodegeneration.
While Single Proton Emission CT (SPECT) scanning
may assist in making the diagnosis, this is only
available in some centres. It is more likely to be used
to exclude other conditions that may have similar
There are some conditions that have symptoms similar
to Parkinson’s and are referred to as ‘parkinsonism’.
Genetic factors
These include essential (familial) tremor,
Only a small number of genes have been directly linked
to the development of Parkinson’s. So far, mutations in
at least nine genes have been identified as causing
Parkinson’s or affecting risk: alpha-synuclein (PARK1),
post-encephalic parkinsonism, cerebrovascular
parkinsonism, progressive supranuclear palsy
(PSP), multiple system atrophy (MSA), corticobasal
degeneration and Wilson’s disease.
You can find out more about some of these conditions
through the following organisations:
The National Tremor Foundation
block the action of other chemicals that affect dopamine,
such as acetylcholine as well as several enzymes that
reduce dopamine’s effect
Harold Wood Hospital (DSC)
Detailed information about the different drugs available and
Gubbins Lane
their potential side effects can be found in the GP, nurse
and pharmacist’s sections of this Guide.
Essex RM3 OAR
Tel: 01708 386399
Freephone: 0800 3288046
Email: [email protected]
Multiple System Atrophy Trust
Southbank House
Black Prince Road
Telephone: 0207 9404666 (all enquiries)
(Monday-Friday, 9.30am-4.30pm)
Email: [email protected] (all enquiries)
Traditional and alternative non-drug therapies
A multidiscipilinary approach to Parkinson’s should
involve all the traditional therapists. This includes the
dietitian, the occupational therapist, the physiotherapist
and the speech and language therapist, whose roles
are explored throughout this Guide.
Alternative or complementary therapies are
treatments that may be used in addition to or
alongside conventional medicine. Alternative
therapies that may benefit people with Parkinson’s
include acupuncture, the Alexander technique,
art therapy, conductive education, homeopathy,
hydrotherapy, music therapy, pilates, reflexology and
tai chi. The PDS booklet Complementary Therapies
PSP (Europe) Association
PSP House
and Parkinson’s Disease looks at these and many
others in more detail.
167 Watling Street West
Northants, NN12 6BX
Surgery is available for some people with Parkinson’s,
Tel: 01327 322410
depending on their symptoms. Procedures include
Email: [email protected]
deep brain stimulation, involving the implantation of
a wire with four electrodes at its tip into the thalamus,
the globus pallidus or the subthalamic nucleus. This wire
is connected to an implantable pulse generator (IPG),
Because of the highly complex, multifactoral spectrum
rather like a pacemaker. When switched on, the IPG
of Parkinson’s symptoms, a multidisciplinary team
produces electrical signals, which are sent to the brain
approach is considered to be beneficial to patients and
to stop or reduce Parkinson’s symptoms.
which is implanted under the skin, often in the chest,
their families and carers, in order to optimise quality
of life and management of symptoms.
More information on this and other surgical options
can be found in the PDS booklet Surgery and
Modern advances in the use of drug therapies,
Parkinson’s Disease.
neuro-surgical treatments, specialist nursing,
Parkinson’s-specific rehabilitation and other
interventions can all contribute towards optimising
Policy and guidelines
the quality of life of people living with Parkinson’s.
Clinical Guideline on the diagnosis and management
Drug regimens
The main aims of drug treatments for Parkinson’s aim to:
of Parkinson’s disease in primary and secondary
increase the level of dopamine that reaches the brain
been endorsed in Northern Ireland. Available at:
stimulate the parts of the brain where dopamine works
care in England and Wales. The Guideline has also
National Service Framework for Long-term
(Neurological) Conditions
Establishes quality requirements for the delivery of
health and social care for people with long-term
neurological conditions in England.
Available at:
Our Health, Our Care, Our Say
Government White Paper published in 2006, which
indicates a new direction for health and social care in
England. Available at:
Delivering for Health
Scottish Executive’s plans to implement the
recommendations of the National Service Framework
for Service Change.
Available at:
Medicines management
Reports into medicines management in hospitals
and care homes.
Direct links to all the policies and guidelines outlined
are available in the pages for professionals on the PDS
website at
Designed for Life
Welsh Assembly Government’s vision and framework
for creating world-class health and social care in Wales
by 2015. Available at:
Caring for People Beyond Tomorrow
Northern Ireland Department of Health Social Services
and Public Safety Strategy for Primary Care.
Available at:
The dietitian’s guide
to Parkinson’s disease
Everyone living with Parkinson’s disease is unique
Swallowing difficulties (dysphagia)
and must be treated as an individual; the condition
Early satiety
may not affect one person in the same way as the
Ill-fitting dentures
next. The ability to perform movements may also differ
from one day to the next.
Cognitive decline
Nutrition has an important role to play in the management
of Parkinson’s. Attention to dietary elements of treatment
can lessen the symptoms of the condition by improving
nutritional status and the efficiency of drug therapy.
Appetite impairment due to mood changes, such as
anxiety, depression, irritability and restlessness
Chronic constipation
Dietary manipulation while taking levodopa
(L-dopa), ie elimination or reduction of protein
As the condition affects muscular movement,
Parkinson’s has widespread effects on eating: inability
to swallow affects the nutritional status and there are
also oral health issues to consider.
Weight loss appears to be common in people with
Parkinson’s, who seem to have a greater risk of
developing malnutrition than a matched population,
ie they have a lower body mass index (BMI), lower triceps
skinfold thickness and lower percentage body weight.
intake as it interferes with the absorption of L-dopa
Other side effects of medication, eg confusion and
Physical and social factors
Difficulty accessing food due to poor mobility
Difficulties with cooking
Difficulty using utensils to cook and eat due to
tremor, rigidity or poor manual dexterity
Lengthy meal times due to akinesia (slowness of
The weight loss may be a result of reduced energy
movement), resulting in meals becoming less
intake, increased energy expenditure or a combination of
appetising, ie hot food becoming cold quickly
both. This will be explained in more detail in the section
‘People in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s’.
Factors that can affect energy intake and
cause weight loss
Poor appetite (often associated with medication)
Sensory change (loss of smell and taste)
Nausea/vomiting/dry mouth (a side effect of some
anti-Parkinson’s drugs)
Increased anxiety around eating and drinking due to
tremor and poor manual dexterity (ie inability to
manipulate food from plate to mouth) and loss of lip
control (resulting in excess drooling, salivation and
inability to retain fluids and semi-solids in the mouth)
Motor fluctuations, such as unpredictable ‘off’ periods
around meal times and for extended periods during
the day, can also affect ability to eat and drink enough.
Diet and nutrition in Parkinson’s
The dietary management of people living with
Parkinson’s aims to:
instigate measures to correct deficiencies or
detect nutritional inadequacies at an early stage,
identify ways to minimise any practical difficulties
through in-depth, thorough diet history
nutrition-related problems
associated with eating or swallowing
prevent undesirable weight gain or loss
preserve lean muscle mass
reduce the impact of the side effects of drug
treatment on dietary intake
provide tailored, individual guidance on ways to
provide optimal nutrition and energy balance
maintain good general and oral health
regularly monitor nutritional status as the
condition progresses
encourage a diet that is high in fibre and fluid
to prevent or manage constipation
The dietitian needs to work in collaboration with the
other members of a multidisciplinary team to ensure
that these aims are achieved.
Problems with muscular movement can also cause
some people with Parkinson’s to experience difficulties
with eating, swallowing and bowel function, which,
again, affects the nutritional status and oral health of
the individual. Social isolation, loss of self-esteem and
depression increase the risk of developing malnutrition
and dental disease, especially when high-sugar snacks
and drinks replace well-balanced meals.
It is important to assist patients with Parkinson’s
and their carers in understanding and treating the
diet-related problems associated with the condition.
The former Dietitians in Neurological Therapy (DINT),
the Nutrition Advisory Group for Elderly People (NAGE)
and various groups of the British Dietetic Association
have collaborated to improve Parkinson’s treatment,
constantly reviewing patients’ needs to improve
quality of life and delay the need for institutional care.
Simple screening and assessment tools, for example
the Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool (MUST), can
be used to detect and quantify nutritional status and
identify persons at risk of malnutrition, particularly
The box below contains a detailed consultation
checklist for extracting relevant information about a
patient’s current nutritional and physical status.
Consultation checklist for baseline assessment
Current weight, height, BMI and weight history, to determine trends in weight,
ie loss/gain, usually over the preceding 3–12 months
Detailed dietary intake via seven-day food diary or 24-hour recall, to establish
eating patterns and habits
Swallowing (dysphagia) and chewing difficulties
Dental and oral health
Medications, including vitamin and mineral preparations
Investigate any self-imposed dietary restrictions or unconventional diets
Identify who does the shopping and cooking
Determine level of mobility and physical activity
Establish level of disabilities, if any, that may have an impact on dietary intake
Activity (dyskinesia/akinesia) and rest patterns
Medical and physical condition
Other risk factors/socio-economic circumstances
The Parkinson’s disease MDT should facilitate:
The multidisciplinary team (MDT)
holistic care
There is no doubt that effective multidisciplinary
working can improve the nutritional status of people
with Parkinson’s. The optimal multidisciplinary
team includes neurologist, GP, doctor, nurse(s),
assistants, physiotherapist, occupational therapist,
speech and language therapist, dietitian, psychologist,
dentist and pharmacist, with the support of carers
(who are the providers of food and nourishment, as
are catering services, when someone is hospitalised).
continuity of care through members of the
An appropriate service for people with Parkinson’s should
meet the physical, functional, psychological and social
needs of patients and their carers. The service should
provide a multidisciplinary ethos of assessment and
treatment tailored to the individual needs of the patient.
the provision of a comprehensive service to patients
and their carers, from diagnosis to the palliative
stage, tailored to the individual’s needs
the provision of in-depth specialist assessment
and treatment from a co-ordinated, specialist
multidisciplinary team
team, especially the Parkinson’s Disease Nurse
Specialist (PDNS)
a ‘one-stop shop’ approach, reducing the need for
patients to deal with several appointments with
various professionals at different venues
the provision of information, education, life skills
training, support and advice to patients, their carers
and other healthcare professionals
peer support through opportunities to interact with
other patients with Parkinson’s during the day or
within group activities
carer support through group activities and carer groups
Who is likely to be referred to you?
Newly diagnosed people with Parkinson’s
There is no particular diet recommended for people
diagnosed with Parkinson’s. It is, however, important
for all people newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s to
maintain an ideal weight for height. Being overweight
or, more commonly in Parkinson’s, underweight can
have adverse effects on general health and wellbeing.
Typical advice would be:
adopt a well-balanced diet in line with the Balance of
Good Health guidelines, as set out in the Parkinson’s
Disease Society’s (PDS) Parkinson’s and Diet booklet
establish and agree Ideal Body Weight (IBW) with client
advise five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
stress the importance of choosing high fibre foods
and drinking at least two litres (eight glasses/cups)
of fluid per day to prevent constipation
advise regular daily exercise, taking into
consideration level of mobility and disability if
necessary – may need to refer to local
physiotherapist for more tailored advice
People in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s
Following the onset of the condition, as many as
unintentional weight loss, and about 75% will
decreased energy intake (Toth, 1999). In this case,
individualised guidance may be needed to help
overcome the following problems.
experience eating difficulties of some sort (Palhagen et
Inadequate food intake
al, 2005; Krenkel JA, 2002; Abbott et al, 1992). Beyer
Written and verbal advice should be provided to help
improve the nutrient intake through the use of
energy-dense foods. Measures to fortify foods and
imaginative use of nutritional supplements may
be appropriate.
50% of those living with Parkinson’s will experience
et al (1995) found in their study that people living with
Parkinson’s are at least four times more likely to lose
10lbs more than age-matched controls. This has been
attributed to subtle rather than acute bouts of
This assessment is becoming routine during
hospitalisation and can be part of any screening strategy
used by healthcare professionals working in outpatient
departments, day hospitals and community or
care/residential home settings. It will identify people
who require nutrition support, thus facilitating appropriate
referrals to the nearest multidisciplinary team.
poor fluid intake, due to problems such as urgency
This is one area that urgently needs addressing by the
(SLT), to prevent continued weight loss and malnutrition.
and frequency of micturation or incontinence
a side effect of some anti-Parkinson’s drugs,
in particular anticholinergics
It has been found by Logermann et al (1997) that
Dietary advice is aimed at increasing the bulk and
at least 95% of people with Parkinson’s experience some
softening the stool. This is first-line treatment and
type of swallowing difficulty. Specific advice may be given
usually works for most people with Parkinson’s.
by the dietitian and SLT on texture-modified diets where
Fluid and fibre play a very important part in the
appropriate. Purée diets are usually nutritionally
management of chronic constipation.
inadequate and may not be energy-dense enough to
Sufficient fluid: about two litres of fluid per day
prevent weight loss. The patient and/or carers should be
(eight to ten cups or six to eight mugs), in the form
advised on strategies to prevent this from happening.
of fluids such as water, cordial fruit juice, vegetable
Imaginative use of oral sip feeds may be necessary too.
juice, tea, coffee, smoothies or drinking yoghurt.
MDT, in particular the speech and language therapist
Spillages and physical difficulties eating
The following approaches, advised in close liaison with
the occupational therapist (OT), may help:
Use of a non-slip mat or damp cloth under the plate
or bowl
Large, adapted cutlery
Two-handled cups, to prevent spillage
A ‘stay-warm’ plate, to keep food hot if meal times
are lengthy
Use of energy-dense ‘finger foods’
Side effects of medication
A dry mouth can be a side effect of anticholinergic
treatments, so these drugs should be taken before food
is eaten. However, if this results in a gastrointestinal
upset, they should be taken after food.
Oral levodopa (L-dopa) should be taken after meals to
lessen the likelihood of gastrointestinal side effects,
such as nausea and vomiting. However, those who
have been taking L-dopa for a long time may not
suffer these side effects.
Domperidone (anti-emetic) is routinely used in
conjunction with anti-Parkinson’s drugs.
For more information, see the PDS booklet
The Drug Treatment of Parkinson’s.
This problem occurs as a result of:
reduced physical activity/mobility
reduced peristalsis, causing delayed gut
transit time
poor fibre intake, due to difficulties chewing
fibrous foods or following a texture-modified diet,
eg purée diet
Sufficient fibre: in the form of fibre-rich foods that
are easy to manage, eg high-fibre choices of breakfast
cereals, wholemeal bread, easy to peel fruit (such as
bananas, satsumas or dried fruit) and by including
vegetables, peas, beans and lentils as meal
components. However, the common practice of
adding bran to foods should not be encouraged as
this is more likely to create problems than solve them.
The information sheet Constipation and Parkinson’s
is available from the PDS.
Oral nutrition support (ONS)
The dietitian should advise on ways to increase energy
intake through the use of energy-dense foods. Fortifying
meals with high fat, sugar or protein foods, such as fullfat milk, skimmed powder, butter and/or the prescription
of oral sip feeds, may be appropriate. Meals may need to
be divided into six small, energy-dense meals if patients
suffer from long ‘off’ periods (where the patient has
severe periods of immobility or freezing) or excessive
daytime sleepiness or unintended sleep episodes, due
to the tendency of dopaminergic medications to induce
a sedative side effect (Aldrich, 1994).
Clinical experience has shown that some patients have
exceeded 3,000kcals per day and still managed to
lose weight. Calculating these patients’ requirements
is based on Schofield’s equation. Add a weight-gain
factor of at least 600–1,000kcals to the basal
metabolic rate (BMR) to promote weight gain, if
necessary, or 25–35kcal/kg ideal body weight (NICE
2006 Nutrition Support for Adults), especially if the
patient is underweight. Regular dietetic review and
imaginative use of oral sip feeds is necessary to
optimise nutritional intake.
Cognitive decline
If the person with Parkinson’s is designated nil-bymouth (NBM), due to severe dysphagia, or is unable
to maintain adequate nutritional intake to prevent
malnutrition, a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy
(PEG) may be inserted for long-term enteral feeding.
Establishing nutritional requirements is based on the
same principles as in ONS. The use of a PEG will
need to be discussed in detail with the MDT and
patient/carers before it becomes an option.
Cognitive decline becomes increasingly possible as
the condition progresses. Confusion is common and
may be accompanied by delusions and hallucinations.
Drug dosage to control motor dysfunction may have to
be reduced in order to produce a more settled
psychological state.
Increased risk of falls and bone health
Malnutrition and weight loss can cause general
weakness and increase the risk of falls. Ensure the
patient is eating sufficient amounts of calcium-rich
foods to maintain bone structure. People with
Parkinson’s have been found to have a defect in
the renal synthesis of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D
(1,25-[OH]2D) (Sato et al, 1997). Literature suggests
that Parkinson’s patients should be supplemented with
vitamin D (1-alpha-hydroxyvitamin D3 – the more
active form of vitamin D), which can help to increase
bone density and dramatically lower the risk of fracture
in these patients (Sato et al, 1999). This is necessary
for patients who are bedbound or immobile.
Weight gain
If an individual living with Parkinson’s becomes
sedentary but still has a normal appetite and continues
to consume the same amount of food, weight gain
can occur.
Perlemoine et al (2005) and Tuite et al (2005) have
observed significant weight gain in patients following
deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery. Weight gain of
21lbs and BMI increase of 4.7kg/m2 six months after
DBS, and an increase in fat mass, were also observed
by Tuite et al (2005) and Macia et al (2003). This weight
gain is due to reduced energy expenditure as a result
of subsidence of chronic tremor by up to 44% (Varma
et al, 2003). This indicates that there is a need for
proactive management of body weight in Parkinson’s
patients undergoing DBS. Dietary guidance should focus
on the need to reduce fat-rich and sugar-rich food
choices, rather than more nutrient-dense foods.
Consumption of fruit and vegetables should be
increased and use of reduced-fat milk and dairy
foods encouraged.
The consequent worsening of motor symptoms is
likely to increase the risk of eating and swallowing
difficulties, necessitating dietetic involvement and
possibly active nutritional support via the enteral route,
eg naso-gastric tube (NGT) or PEG feeding.
Dietary protein manipulation
L-dopa is a type of amino acid called large neutral
amino acid (LNAA). In order for the L-dopa to be
absorbed adequately, it must attach itself to carrier
molecules in the wall of the intestine, which then carry
it across the intestinal wall to the blood. Therefore
anything that also uses this carrier system can
compete with L-dopa.
L-dopa disappears from the blood very quickly, usually
about 60–90 minutes after being administered. It must
be absorbed from the small intestine into the
bloodstream, cross the blood-brain barrier and then
be converted, by enzymes, to dopamine in the brain.
Factors such as a heavy meal (a meal high in fat or
protein) or constipation can delay the emptying of the
stomach contents into the small bowel, therefore
preventing adequate L-dopa absorption. The major
site of interference between L-dopa and protein, in
particular of large neutral amino acids (phenylalanine,
tyrosine and tryptophan), is at the blood-brain barrier
(Karstaedt & Pincus, 1992). As a result, it has been
suggested that reduction, manipulation or
redistribution of dietary protein intake may help to
counteract the decrease in the long-term effectiveness
of L-dopa and so help to provide symptom relief.
Some patients benefit from taking L-dopa at least half
an hour before a meal or an hour after to avoid
competing with protein for absorption. The following
measures have also been advocated and researched
Protein restriction Restricting protein intake to
7–10g during the day maximises absorption of the
drug and minimises motor fluctuations. Most should
be consumed in the evening, when reduced motor
functions are less likely to disrupt a person’s lifestyle.
Enteral nutrition support (ENS)
Riley and Lang (1998) report that this approach is well
tolerated and beneficial. Pare et al (1992) reported that
healthy, well-motivated individuals could maintain an
adequate intake of most nutrients, despite restricting
dietary intake in the daytime, as long as they received
sufficient dietetic education and support. However, this
type of intervention may not be appropriate if the patient
is already malnourished and/or requires the use of oral
sip feeds to maintain weight.
Protein reduction Researchers have suggested that
these patients benefit from not exceeding their
recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein
(Frankel et al, 1989) or eating no more than 50g/d
(men) and 40g/d (women) (Tsui et al, 1989). However,
it is not only the total amount of protein that is
important but how it is distributed throughout the day
(Carter et al, 1989). It is also important to increase the
apomorphine pump insertion. Ensure that your aims of
dietetic intervention are explicit to the MDT when
manipulating protein with any individual.
It has been suggested that high dietary intakes of
antioxidants may be protective against the
development of Parkinson’s. However, this remains
speculative; while some studies have reported findings
consistent with this effect (de Rijk et al, 1997), others
have failed to confirm this (Logroscino et al, 1996;
Morens et al, 1996). Further research is needed
(Ben-Shlomo, 1997).
Once the condition has developed, there is no evidence
that taking supplemental doses of antioxidants slows
the progression of the disease or enhances the effects
of anti-Parkinson’s drugs.
and simple technique to extend the usefulness of
It had been hypothesised previously that supplementary
vitamin E could be of significant benefit in slowing down
the progression of the condition. However, the recently
published NICE Guideline for Parkinson’s disease:
diagnosis and management in primary and secondary
care (2006) has recommended that vitamin E should not
be used as a neuroprotective therapy in Parkinson’s, due
to the lack of evidence. Patients who are concerned about
their intake of these nutrients should be reassured that a
well-balanced diet will meet their antioxidant needs and
that food sources of these nutrients (particularly fruit and
vegetables) may be better, and probably safer, than
supplements. See the PDS booklet Complementary
Therapies and Parkinson’s Disease for more information.
carbidopa/L-dopa therapy in advanced Parkinson’s.
Co-enzyme Q10
However, do remember that these are experimental
People living with Parkinson’s often take supplementary
co-enzyme Q10, as it is thought to slow down the
progression of the disease. Due to the lack of scientific
evidence, the NICE Guideline for Parkinson’s disease
(2006) has recommended that co-enzyme Q10 should
not be used as a neuroprotective therapy, except in
the context of clinical trials. Co-enzyme Q10 can be
found in organ meats, beef, soya oil, oily fish and
peanuts (very small amounts).
proportion of dietary carbohydrate to protein to
a ratio of 5:1; thought to yield an optimum ratio
between plasma neutral amino acids and L-dopa
(Berry et al, 1991).
Protein redistribution It is well established that the
use of protein redistribution diets (PRD) can benefit
this group of patients (Carter et al, 1989; Frankel et
al, 1989; Pincus et al, 1987; Juncos et al, 1987).
Total protein intake can be evenly distributed between
six small snack-meals.
Karstaedt & Pincus (1992) have suggested that the
long-term use of a protein-restricted diet is a safe
techniques and that the benefits have not been
sufficiently established for them to be regarded as
standard practice. They may be a viable option in some
instances, when symptom control on medication is
failing or inadequate, but in any patient where nutritional
intake is already inadequate (particularly likely in patients
with advanced symptoms), there is a considerable risk
that such dietary manipulations could seriously
compromise nutritional status.
It is advisable to liaise with your MDT, in particular the
PDNS if you have one, who can advise whether the
above measures will be of benefit. In some cases, the
patient may be becoming resistant to L-dopa and
would benefit from other forms of management, for
example an apomorphine challenge and subsequent
In the absence of any curative treatment, the
management of Parkinson’s remains largely palliative,
despite the huge advances that have been achieved
in medical knowledge.
The palliative stage of Parkinson’s is defined as:
inability to tolerate adequate dopaminergic therapy
unsuitable for surgery
the presence of advanced co-morbidities
Medication may be reduced due to lack of drug
efficacy and increasing sensitivity to unwanted effects,
such as hallucinations. Active and aggressive nutrition
support may also be withdrawn if it is causing
discomfort or undue distress. Close liaison with the
palliative care team is advised at this stage. It is
therefore very important that there is good, effective
and open communication within the MDT.
(MacMahon & Thomas, 1998)
Case study
Mr X was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1987.
Referred to MDT Parkinson’s clinic in day hospital in 2002.
Dietitian carried out initial nutritional assessment and has had patient on caseload since; most recently
for first hospital admission.
Other medical history
Fall – wrist fracture
Signs and symptoms
constant drooling
poor gait
reduced mobility
tilts when sitting
no direct eye contact
expressionless face
quiet speech
unable to communicate fully
coughs on normal fluids
Reason for hospitalisation
(not been hospitalised previously)
Review medication/simplify medication regime
Assess worsening
Assess mobility
Treat constipation – BNO x 11 days
Assess confusion – drug-induced hallucinations and confusion
Review ADL
End-stage Parkinson’s
Case study (continued)
November 2002
Initial assessment: BMI: 22
Steadily losing weight due to reduced food and fluid intake (very slow eater)
Food/fluid enhancement
Healthy eating
x2 supplement drinks/day
Monthly initially
March 2003
February 2006
BMI: 24
Communication difficulties, drooling
Referral to speech and language therapist, continue nutrition support
Quarterly until February 2006
BMI: 26
Fall, fracture left wrist
Reduced ability to eat and drink
Increased strain on wife
Wife main/only carer
Live in own home
Stair lift
Wife is Mr X’s advocate. She does most things to assist Mr X. The main problem occurs when she
wants a break or is unwell. She has refused planned surgery when no one available to care for
husband at home.
She reports that the daily hospital visits and feeding Mr X is exhausting, stressful and time-consuming.
Home with simplified medication regimen for others to use, eg respite carers
Improved eating and drinking due to continued intake of thickened fluids (syrup consistency)
and eats more due to decreased confusion (which was caused by medication)
Weight steady
Reviewed physio exercise regime
More aids to eating and drinking via the OT
Carer support via local carers group
Relevant resources from the PDS
Information sheets
Complementary Therapies (code B102)
Looking After Your Bladder and Bowels in
Parkinsonism (code B060)
Parkinson’s and Dental Health (B045)
Parkinson’s and Diet (code B065)
The Drug Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease
(code B013)
Antioxidants (code FS67)
Co-enzyme Q10 (code FS74)
Communication (code FS06)
Constipation and Parkinson’s (code FS80)
Eating, Swallowing and Saliva Control in Parkinson’s
(code FS22)
Fatigue and Parkinson’s (FS72)
Motor Fluctuations in Parkinson’s (FS73)
References and further reading
Abbott RA et al (1992) ‘Diet, body size and micronutrient status in Parkinson’s disease’ European Journal of
Clinical Nutrition; 46(12):879–884
Ben-Shlomo Y (1997) ‘The epidemiology of Parkinson’s disease’ (Bailleres Clinical Neurology; 6(1):55–68), The
Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool (MUST), BAPEN (2003) –
Berry EM et al (1991) ‘A balanced carbohydrate: protein diet in the management of Parkinson’s disease’
Neurology; 41:1295–1297
Beyer PL et al (1995) ‘Weight change and body composition in patients with Parkinson’s disease’ Journal of the
American Dietetic Association; 95(9):979–983
Carter JH et al (1989) ‘Amount and distribution of dietary protein affects clinical response to levodopa in
Parkinson’s disease’, Neurology; 39:552–556)
de Rijk MC et al (1997)‘Dietary antioxidants and Parkinson’s disease. The Rotterdam Study’ Archives of
Neurology; 54(6):762–765
Frankel JP et al (1989) ‘The effects of oral protein on the absorption of intraduodenal levodopa and motor
performance’ (Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry; 52:1063–1067)
Juncos JL et al (1987) ‘Dietary influences on anti-parkinsonian response to L-dopa’ (Archives of Neurology;
Karstaedt PJ & Pincus JH (1992) ‘Protein redistribution diet remains effective in patients with fluctuating
parkinsonism’ (Archives of Neurology; 49:149–151)
Krenkel JA (2002) ‘Parkinson’s disease: implications for nutritional care’ (Topics in Clinical Nutrition; 17(5):85)
Kryger MH et al ‘Parkinsonism’, MS Aldrich (1994) in: Principles and practice of sleep medicine (pp783–789),
Logemann JA et al (1997) ‘Speech and swallowing evaluation in the differential diagnosis of neurological disease’
(Neurologia-Neurocirugia-Psichustria; 18:71–78)
Logroscino G et al (1996) ‘Dietary lipids and antioxidants in Parkinson’s disease: a population-based, casecontrol study’ (Annals of Neurology; 39(1):89–94)
Macia F et al (2004) ‘Parkinson’s disease patients with bilateral subthalamic deep brain stimulation gain weight’
(Movement Disorders; 19(2):206–212)
MacMahon DG & Thomas S (1998) ‘Practical approach to quality of life in Parkinson’s disease: the nurse’s role’
(Journal of Neurology; 245:S19–S22)
Morens DM et al (1996) ‘Case-control study of idiopathic Parkinson’s disease and dietary vitamin E intake’
(Neurology; 46(5):1270–1274)
National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (2006) ‘Nutrition support in adults: oral nutrition support,
enteral tube feeding and parenteral nutrition’ (Clinical guideline 32) –
National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (2006) ‘Parkinson’s disease: diagnosis and management in
primary and secondary care’ (Clinical guideline 35) –
Palhagen S et al (2005) ‘Does L-dopa treatment contribute to reduction in body weight in elderly patients with
Parkinson’s disease?’ (Acta Neurologica Scandinavica; 111(1):12–20)
Pare S et al (1992) ‘Effect of daytime protein restriction on nutrient intakes of free-living Parkinson’s disease
patients’ (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 55:701–707)
Perlemoine C et al (2005) ‘Effects of subthalamic nucleus deep brain stimulation and levodopa on energy
production rate and substrate oxidation in Parkinson’s disease’ (British Journal of Nutrition; 93(2):191–198)
Pincus JH & Barry KM (1987) ‘Plasma levels of amino acids correlate with motor fluctuations in parkinsonism’
(Archives of Neurology; 44:1006–1009)
Riley D & Lang AE (1998) ‘Practical application of low protein diet for Parkinson’s disease’, Neurology;
Sato Y et al (1999) ‘Amelioration of osteopenia and hypovitaminosis D by 1a-hydroxyvitamin D3 in elderly
patients with Parkinson’s disease’ (Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry; 66:64–68)
Sato Y et al (1997) ‘High prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and reduced bone mass in Parkinson’s disease’
(Neurology; 49:1273–1278)
Toth MJ (1999) ‘Energy expenditure in wasting diseases: current concepts and measurement techniques’
(Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care; 2(6):445–451)
Tsui JK et al (1989) ‘The effect of dietary protein on the efficacy of L-dopa: a double blind study’ (Neurology;
Tuite PJ et al (2005) ‘Weight and body mass index in Parkinson’s disease patients after deep brain stimulation
surgery’ (Parkinsonism & Related Disorders; 11(4):247–252)
Varma TR et al (2003) ‘Deep brain stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus: effectiveness in advanced Parkinson’s
disease patients previously reliant on apomorphine’ (Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry;
The GP’s guide
to Parkinson’s disease
The good news for the GP is that there is a lot more you
can do for your patients with Parkinson’s, particularly
when it comes to the non-motor symptoms of the
condition; these are often more troublesome to patients
than the motor features – bradykinesia, hypokinesia,
rigidity and resting tremor – that doctors often
concentrate on.
Non-motor symptoms are wide ranging and can
include depression, dementia, sleep disturbance,
incontinence, dysphagia, constipation, impotence,
hypotension and sweating. The GP has a crucial role
in controlling these non-motor symptoms, as well
as the motor symptoms.
effects of certain Parkinson’s drug treatments,
so significant behavioural changes should also
be monitored.
It must be remembered that each patient is part of
a family unit. Other members will be affected by the
patient’s Parkinson’s. The spouse invariably becomes
the carer and it is important to support them too.
Patients and carers are central to the management
of the condition. Openness, explanation and honesty
(in situations where you can’t help) will make a major
difference. Palliative care for the final days needs to
be organised to ensure that a patient’s dignity is
maintained at the end of their life.
Behavioural disorders, such as pathological gambling,
hypersexuality and compulsive eating, can also be side
Dr Parkinson described the condition in 1817 on the
basis of observations made from the window of his
London home, from consultations and from people he
approached in the street. This would suggest that the
diagnosis is straightforward but, of course, this is not
always the case, particularly as our responsibility is to
detect disease processes at an early stage in order to
introduce appropriate therapy and refer on to other
members of the multidisciplinary team (MDT).
Awareness is the first rule of diagnosis so it is
important to have some concept of the prevalence
of the disease and its age range.
The condition occurs in all ethnic groups and there
is a 1.8 times greater risk of Parkinson’s in men.
The prevalence in the general population is one in
500 – over 120,000 people in the UK are affected by
Parkinson’s. The mean age of presentation is 65 years.
However, it is important to remember that one in 20
of all newly diagnosed patients (about 10,000 per year
in the UK) are under the age of 40. It is estimated that
the prevalence will increase in the next 50 years
because of our ageing population. The important
message is that this is not an uncommon disease.
The pathological basis for the symptoms is the loss
of nerve cells in the pigmented substantia nigra, pars
compacta and the locus coeruleus of the midbrain.
Cell loss also occurs in the globus pallidus. The loss
of dopaminergic cells in the substantia nigra leads
to striatal dopamine depletion.
and environmental agents. Symptoms have been
associated with exposure to certain chemicals, which
suggests that long exposure to an unrecognised
environmental toxin may play a role. Endogenous
toxins may also be involved, as dopamine readily
oxidises to produce free radicals.
Dopamine activates receptors in the direct pathway
to the motor cortex and represses inhibitory receptors
in the indirect pathway (via the thalamus). Depletion
leads to decreased activity in the direct pathway and
increased activity in the indirect pathway, reducing
thalamic stimulation of the motor cortex. The depletion
of other neurotransmitters may also play a part in the
development of other non-motor symptoms, such
as depression.
While genetic influences also may contribute, early
studies failed to find similar disease patterns in mono
and dizygotic twins. However, striatal abnormalities
have been shown to be present (by positron emission
tomography) in non-affected twins. In addition to the
potential of genetic susceptibility factors, about 5%
of cases of Parkinson’s are directly inherited and are
usually manifest as early-onset Parkinson’s (less than
40 years of age). To date, ten genes associated with
inherited Parkinson’s have been identified.
The cause of Parkinson’s remains uncertain but it is
likely to be due to a combination of genetic risk factors
A definite diagnosis of Parkinson’s is difficult. It is
important that there is an early diagnosis. If the
condition is suspected, a patient should quickly be
referred – untreated – to a neurologist or a geriatrician
with a special interest in Parkinson’s. There may be a
local ‘movement disorder clinic’. The NICE Guideline
on the diagnosis and management of Parkinson’s
says referral time should be no more than six weeks
and should not exceed two weeks in cases where the
condition is severe or complex.
Signs and symptoms suggestive of Parkinson’s are:
bradykinesia (slow movements)
hypokinesia (poverty of movement)
The condition is diagnosed following a detailed clinical
examination. Often the specialist will use the ‘brain bank
criteria’. There are no laboratory tests or easily available
imaging tests to help make the diagnosis. While Single
Proton Emission CT (SPECT) scanning may assist in
making the diagnosis, this is only available in some
centres. It is more likely to be used to exclude other
conditions that may have similar symptoms.
Patients with Parkinson’s should be reviewed regularly
and the diagnosis reconsidered if atypical features
appear. The rate of onset is extremely variable and
some years may pass before the patient or their
relatives appreciate what is happening. This is
especially true if tremor is not an early symptom.
There are some conditions that have symptoms similar
to Parkinson’s and are referred to as ‘parkinsonism’.
Essential (familial) tremor is a faster tremor (about
7–8Hz). There is a postural element to the tremor,
which can help to differentiate from Parkinson’s rest
tremor. There are no other neurological signs and the
disability is never profound.
Post-encephalic parkinsonism can be distinguished
by the history and there are usually features of
dementia at an early stage.
Other conditions include cerebrovascular
parkinsonism, progressive supranuclear palsy
(PSP), multiple systems atrophy (MSA),
corticobasal degeneration and Wilson’s disease.
Neuroleptic drugs, taken for a prolonged time, can
induce symptoms of parkinsonism. These include
chlorpromazine, thioridazine, trifluoperazine,
fluphenazinel, haloperidol, pimozide, risperidone,
quetiapine and anti-emetics, eg prochlorperazine and
metoclorpropamide. All these drugs reduce dopamine
levels and withdrawal of the drug is likely to result in
the symptoms resolving.
If there is a Parkinson’s Disease Nurse Specialist
(PDNS), they can co-ordinate optimal care with
the patient, carer, GP and specialist. The PDNS
revolutionises care by bringing it into the community
and the patient’s home. All patients with Parkinson’s
should have access to a PDNS.
follow-up will facilitate independence. Speech therapy
will help to preserve speech and swallowing.
The GP can co-ordinate care by using a computerised
register, to ensure patients are not referred on and
then forgotten about.
Medication is usually proved by the GP, who is well
placed, with the PDNS, to monitor compliance issues
related to repeat prescribing. A medication review
will ensure that no other medication is exacerbating
the condition. Do not stop medication abruptly as it
can cause neuroleptic malignant syndrome, which
can be dangerous.
Maintaining independence is a high priority, along with
home safety. Occupational therapy and physiotherapy
Motor symptoms
Patients with Parkinson’s become slower in all
movements (bradykinesia) and gradually the characteristic
parkinsonian rigidity takes possession of the limb, usually
on one side – both sides will be affected as the condition
progresses. On the affected side, the arm stops swinging
when walking and the leg feels heavy.
Hypokinesia (poverty of movement) manifests as loss
of facial expression, loss of arm swing and difficulty
with movement.
In the majority of patients, but not all, the tremor appears
not when the limb is in motion but when at rest, or
perhaps when carrying out a task such as holding up a
newspaper. It is a fine, rhythmic movement – about two to
five per second – and may appear in the thumb and index
finger (‘pill-rolling’) or at the wrist. The leg also, when
inadequately supported, will shake in the same way.
The tremor is aggravated by fatigue, emotional stress or
the knowledge that the tremor is being looked at. It usually
only affects one side of the body initially.
Clinical examination should, as usual, begin with
the observation of the patient as he/she approaches
the examiner. The face, the stance and gait are all
good indicators of Parkinson’s.
The arms and legs are not paralysed. The muscle tone
is increased with the classic ‘lead pipe’ or ‘cog-wheel’
rigidity. Movements tend to be slow and restricted
in range.
The tendon reflexes are normal or even a little brisk
and the planter reflexes are flexor. If reflexes are brisk,
this raises the possibility of atypical parkinsonism.
Imperceptibly, the natural mobility of the patient’s
face fades and this becomes a little set and, later, a
‘masked’ appearance develops. Although the voice
tends to lose its natural inflexions and eventually
becomes very weak, mental alertness is unimpaired
for many years. Although the lack of facial expression
can give the wrong impression about the mental state,
many patients have unrecognised depression.
Ideally, patients with Parkinson’s should receive a
follow-up by a Parkinson’s specialist every 6–12
months to optimise the treatment and reassess the
diagnosis. It is not unusual, as the illness evolves,
for the diagnosis to change. If the GP has a special
interest then the patient can be followed by using a
local shared care protocol.
Non-motor symptoms (NMS)
Early recognition of NMS is essential. The GP or
PDNS can assess and monitor continuously, providing
specific advice and support for the person and their
family, as well as ensuring referral on to the MDT.
The Parkinson’s Disease Society (PDS) has produced a
Non-motor symptoms questionnaire with 30 yes/no
questions relating to the month prior to the consultation.
This can be given to patients before their consultation to
aid recognition of NMS and allow them to be discussed.
Neuropsychiatric symptoms
Anxiety is common and can be a preclinical indicator.
Presentation can be in the form of panic attacks,
compulsive eating, punding (the repetitive performance
of meaningless tasks) and other obsessive
compulsive behaviours or generalised anxiety and can
often be related to drug-induced motor fluctuations.
Apathy is now known to be a particular symptom of
Parkinson’s, independent of depression and fatigue,
and responds minimally to dopaminergic drugs,
perhaps indicating the involvement of other
neurotransmitter pathways.
Depression occurs in about 45% of people with
Parkinson’s and appears to be related to the
degeneration of dopaminergic neurones in limbic and
pre-frontal systems. Depression may present with
feelings of guilt, helplessness, remorse or sadness.
A structured evaluation and the use of a depression
rating scale can help to quantify the problem when
making a referral to psychiatric services for a correct
diagnosis and treatment.
Psychosis and visual hallucinations
Hallucinations and other forms of psychosis occur in
about 40% of individuals with Parkinson’s who are on
dopaminergic therapy. Psychotic symptoms can take
the form of vivid, complex visual hallucinations of people
and animals. Auditory and olfactory hallucinations are
less common and may be associated with visual
hallucinations or present independently. Delusional
thinking can also occur. Presence of these symptoms
may indicate that the diagnosis needs to be reviewed
as the patient may be developing dementia.
Mild psychotic symptoms, if tolerated by the person
with Parkinson’s, need not be actively treated. If they
are troublesome, management includes gradually
withdrawing anti-Parkinson’s medication that might
have triggered the psychosis and, if not effective,
then considering the use of atypical antipsychotics,
(as well as checking for concurrent infection or
constipation).Typical antipsychotics are not
recommended as they exacerbate the motor
symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Impulse control disorders (ICD) affect a very small
percentage of patients. It may be seen more often in
younger, early onset patients, and seems to be a result of
treatment with dopamine agonists, rather than a specific
non-motor symptom. This can manifest as compulsive
gambling, hypersexuality, compulsive eating, punding and
other obsessive compulsive behaviours. Dopamine
dysregulation syndrome, where the patient takes
increased doses of medication, with traits similar to drug
addiction, is also associated with ICD.
At least 40% of patients will develop cognitive changes
severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of dementia.
This may be dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), which is
usually diagnosed when the symptoms of dementia are
manifest within one year of the onset of the Parkinson’s
motor symptoms. Dementia in Parkinson’s is progressive
and characterised by a severe dysexecutive syndrome,
with impairment of visuospatial abilities and marked
cognitive impairment, impaired concentration, excessive
daytime sleepiness, visual hallucinations and delusions.
Although cholinesterase inhibitors have been used
successfully in treating individual people with Parkinson’s
dementia, further research is recommended to identify
those patients who will benefit from this treatment.
Sleep disturbances
Most people with Parkinson’s will have problems with
sleep. The causes are multifactorial but degeneration
of the sleep regulation centres in the brainstem and
thalamocortical pathway is implicated. A full sleep
history should be taken. The merits of good sleep
hygiene should be advised. The PDS information sheet
Sleep and Night-time Problems in Parkinson’s is a
useful source of information for patients. A review of all
medication and avoidance of any drugs that may
affect sleep or alertness, or may interact with other
medication should also be considered.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS)
RLS will disturb sleep but usually responds to a low
dose of dopamine agonists, clonazepam or levodopa.
Excessive daytime sleepiness and dozing affects up to
50% of patients with Parkinson’s. The condition itself,
poor sleep and anti-Parkinson’s drugs are causative
factors. Excessive daytime sleepiness can occur early
in the condition and predate the diagnosis. ‘Sudden
onset of sleep’ is now considered to be a side effect of
dopamine agonists, rather than a dysfunction of sleep.
Modafanil may reduce this problem.
Sexual dysfunction
The most commonly reported sexual problem for men
with Parkinson’s is erectile dysfunction. For women,
difficulty with arousal (genital sensitivity or lubrication),
orgasmic difficulty, dyspareunia or vaginismus are the
primary problems.
Orthostatic (postural) hypotension
Orthostatic hypotension can occur in up to 48%
of people with Parkinson’s. It is defined as a fall in
systolic blood pressure of over 20mm mercury on
standing. Patients who are experiencing orthostatic
hypotension may complain of dizziness, visual
disturbances, falling or fainting. It can be due to
Autonomic disturbance (dysautonomia)
central or peripheral autonomic dysfunction but it
Autonomic dysfunction is common in Parkinson’s,
should be remembered that it can also occur as a
due to the underlying pathophysiology of the condition
result of Parkinson’s medications, antihypertensives
affecting the catecholaminergic neurones of the
or co-morbidities, such as anaemia. Taking a lying to
autonomic nervous system. The pathophysiology is
standing blood pressure should be part of a first visit
complex and includes degeneration and dysfunction
assessment and then as required, if the patient
of the nuclei mediating autonomic functions and
complains of dizziness, visual disturbances, falling or
degeneration of cholinergic, monoaminergic, and
fainting. This can be helped by increasing salt and
serotoninergic nuclei. Symptoms include: urinary
fluid intake and raising the head of the bed.
dysfunction, constipation, erectile dysfunction, orthostatic
Fludrocortisone and midodrine may also be helpful.
hypotension, weight loss, dysphagia, excessive sweating
(hyperhidrosis) and excessive saliva (sialorrhoea).
Urinary dysfunction
Bladder dysfunction can affect up to 40% of individuals.
The earliest and most commonly reported complaint is
nocturia (waking at night one or more times to void)
followed by urgency, frequency and urge incontinence.
Where there are refractory or persistent bladder
problems, referral to a urologist should be considered,
after exclusion of urinary tract infection (where there is
an abrupt change in voiding pattern) or diabetes
mellitus (where frequency and polyuria are prominent).
Referral to a continence adviser may also be helpful.
Weight loss
Unintended weight loss is common, occurring in
over 50% of individuals. Moderate or severe
dyskinesia can be the cause but if significant loss
occurs, other medical causes, eg malignancy,
endocrine causes, dysphagia or poor diet, should
be considered and referral to the appropriate
discipline instigated.
Swallowing difficulties usually relate to disease severity
and may affect all phases of the swallow process.
There is a risk of aspiration pneumonia, malnutrition
and dehydration. Dysphagia poses a major problem to
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behaviour
disorder (RBD)
This is characterised by loss of the normal skeletal
muscle atonia during REM sleep, resulting in people
physically acting out their dream (often violently) and
can precede the development of the motor symptoms
in up to 40% of patients. Clonazepam in small doses
of 0.5–2mg may help.
Constipation occurs frequently, affecting over 50% of
people with Parkinson’s, which is significantly higher
than in the normal population (around 15%). It is one
of the most common non-motor symptoms and can
precede development of the disease. The initial
management of constipation due to colonic dysmotility
includes increasing dietary fibre and fluid intake (at
least eight glasses of water per day) and increasing
the taking of medications that are critical in the
successful management of Parkinson’s. There should
be early referral to a speech and language therapist for
assessment, swallowing advice and, where indicated,
further instrumental investigation.
Excessive sweating may occur as an end-of-dose ‘off’
phenomenon or while in the ‘on’ motor state. It is
usually associated with dyskinesias.
Excessive saliva or drooling occurs in 70–80% of people
with Parkinson’s. Apart from social embarrassment and
soiling of clothing, sialorrhoea may also be associated
with perioral infection. General management should
include referral to a speech and language therapist for
full assessment of swallowing ability and advice.
Sensory disturbances
Pain is common and can occur in up to 50% of people
with Parkinson’s. Patients may complain of sensory-type
pains, which include paraesthesias, burning
dyesthesias, coldness, numbness and deep aching
within a nerve (neuropathic pain). Pain may be related to
motor fluctuations or early morning dystonia, ‘off’ phase
dystonia and, occasionally, ‘on’ dystonia, the latter
being particularly difficult to treat. It can also be a result
of musculoskeletal pain, secondary to parkinsonian
rigidity and hypokinesia. Pain should always be
evaluated and treated appropriately.
Olfactory dysfunction eventually affects up to 90% of
people with Parkinson’s and is a potential pre-clinical
marker of the condition.
Unless the GP has a special interest in the condition,
treatment is best initiated by a Parkinson’s specialist
in liaison with the PDNS, using a local shared care
protocol that the GP can refer to. The GP can then
prescribe Parkinson’s medication but only if a robust
local shared guideline is available. Ideally the
monitoring will be carried out by a PDNS.
Communication by phone between GP, PDNS and
Parkinson’s specialist will often smooth out any issues
regarding responsibility and reluctance to prescribe
drugs that a GP has no experience of prescribing.
Ideally, your patient should have access to physiotherapy,
occupational therapy and speech and language therapy.
Sadly these services are often not available.
(Madopar®), in addition to carbidopa as co-careldopa,
(Sinemet®). These drugs remain the mainstay of
therapy and it is important to titrate the dosage to the
patient’s requirement.
The problem with L-dopa is that, in the longer term,
the timing of each dose becomes critical, as there is
frequently loss of effect before the next dose is
absorbed. This can give rise to unexpected involuntary
movements. In addition, patients experience sudden
switches from normal movement (being ‘on’) to
immobility (being ‘off’).
The obvious treatment is to give the patient dopamine,
but this is seriously emetic and cannot cross the
blood-brain barrier when taken orally, so the aim is to
use other approaches to increase brain dopamine levels.
In time, the majority of patients on this drug will experience
these adverse effects. Manipulation of the dosage, time of
administration and type of preparation will help. In addition,
attention should be paid to diet, as a high protein diet can
interfere with the absorbtion of L-dopa from the
gastrointestinal tract, and some patients benefit from
taking their medication about 45 minutes before meals.
Dopamine agonists
Levodopa (L-dopa) is a dopamine precursor that
is converted to endogenous dopamine within the
brain by the enzyme dopa decarboxylase. The two
common forms of L-dopa do this by combining with
benserazide (which inhibits the actions of extracerebral
dopa decarboxylase and therefore the peripheral effects
of increased dopamine levels) as co-beneldopa
An alternative strategy is to use drugs that have a
dopamine-like action. The dopamine agonists
stimulate dopamine receptors (among other actions)
and can be used either alone or in conjunction with
L-dopa. They produce fewer long-term side effects but
they are much more likely to cause hallucinations in
older patients. In addition, they have to be introduced
Rotigotine is delivered once daily by skin patch but
its place in therapy is not yet established.
Apomorphine can only be administered
subcutaneously and is helpful in patients who
have severe fluctuations in their symptoms.
With appropriate training, it can be self-administered
and there is now a preparation for continuous
subcutaneous infusion with a syringe driver.
Other drugs
Amantadine – The action is uncertain but it is likely to
promote dopamine action by inhibiting the excitatory
amino acid glutamate. It is relatively mild in effect but
is useful in reducing drug-induced dyskinesia.
MAO-B inhibitors (selegiline and rasagiline) –
This drug blocks the enzyme monoamine oxidase
type B (MAO-B), which breaks down dopamine in the
brain. It can be used on its own in the early stages of
the condition or in conjunction with L-dopa. In this
situation, it reduces the required dosage and prolongs
the action of the L-dopa.
Antidepressants – As depression is present in up
to 45% of people with Parkinson’s, these are often
important in the management of the condition.
There are no specific rules for their use and GPs
should use drugs they are familiar with. Selective
serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, eg citalopram, are
possibly the most useful but there is a rare
adverse interaction with selegiline and rasagiline
(hypertension and CNS excitation).
Drugs that are best avoided in Parkinson’s
Surgical treatments
A very small percentage of patients with extra-pyramidal
movement disorders benefit from surgical treatment.
The most common procedure is the implant of electrical
stimulators in the midbrain in an operation called ‘deep
brain stimulation’ (DBS). In carefully selected patients,
the results are excellent, greatly relieving the symptoms
of the condition for some years.
Cathecol-O-methyl (COMT) inhibitors (entacapone
and tolcapone) – COMT inhibitors work by blocking
an enzyme called catechol-O-methyl transferase
(COMT), which breaks down L-dopa. As a result
they slow the destruction of L-dopa in the body.
COMT inhibitors are therefore prescribed for use
with L-dopa to prolong the duration of action.
Anticholinergics (eg trihexyphenidyl) – These were
the first drugs to become available for the treatment of
Parkinson’s. While they tend to help the tremor, they are
no longer recommended due to high risk of side effects,
especially in the elderly, and concerns about their effect on
cognitive function.
very gradually, as they do cause nausea, sickness,
ankle swelling and dizziness related to low blood
pressure. They have to be used with care but are very
useful. Preparations include bromocriptine, cabergoline
and pergolide (ergot derived). While some of these can
have a side effect of heart valve fibrosis and reddening
of the legs, others, including pramipexole, ropinirole
and apomorphine, do not.
Relevant resources from the PDS
Looking After Your Bladder and Bowels in Parkinsonism
(code B060)
Parkinson’s and Diet (code B065)
The Drug Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease (code B013)
Being There – a resource for the newly diagnosed
(code V012)
Non-motor Symptoms Questionnaire (code B117)
Information sheets
Apomorphine (APO-go) (code FS26)
Dementia and Parkinson’s (code FS58)
Dementia with Lewy Bodies (code FS33)
Depression and Parkinson’s (code FS56)
Eating, Swallowing and Saliva Control in
Parkinson’s (code FS22)
Gambling and Parkinson’s (code FS84)
Hallucinations and Parkinson’s (code FS11)
Parkinson’s and Hypersexuality (code FS87)
Low Blood Pressure and Parkinson’s (code FS50)
Muscle Cramps and Dystonias (code FS43)
Pain in Parkinson’s (code FS37)
Parkinsonism (code FS14)
Pill Timers (code FS53)
Restless Legs Syndrome and Parkinson’s
(code FS83)
Sleep and Night-time Problems in Parkinson’s
(code FS30)
Useful websites and further reading
A concise synopsis of the entire field of clinical medicine, focused on the needs of the general practitioner.
National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence
The NICE Guideline for Parkinson's disease: diagnosis and management in primary and secondary care.
Clarke C (2006) Parkinson’s Disease in Practice, 2nd revision, Royal Society of Medicine Press Ltd
Jones, Roger et al (2003), Oxford Textbook of Primary Medical Care, Oxford University Press
The nurse’s guide
to Parkinson’s disease
As a nurse, your contribution is crucial in providing
people with Parkinson’s with high-quality care and
treatment. The importance of a highly skilled and
educated nursing workforce is well recognised
by healthcare commissioners and people with
Parkinson’s themselves.
This section is written by an experienced nurse
specifically to guide you in delivering ‘best practice’
in Parkinson’s disease management. We hope you
find this resource helpful.
The publication Competencies: an integrated career
and competency framework for nurses working in
Parkinson’s disease management is also available from
the Parkinson’s Disease Society (PDS). It describes the
knowledge and skills required by nurses to manage
the care of people living with Parkinson’s disease in
any healthcare setting and offers signposts for good
practice. The PDS, Parkinson’s Disease Nurse
Specialist Association (PDNSA) and Royal College
of Nursing (RCN) have collaborated as one body
to produce these competencies to maintain the
highest level of standards, competence and
professional integrity.
Both Parkinson’s Disease Nurse Specialists (PDNSs)
and registered nurses are vital in the care of people
with Parkinson’s and make a real difference to people’s
lives. They are often looked to for help at times of
great difficulty by patients and their families.
Bowel and bladder dysfunction
While it is not inevitable that people with Parkinson’s
will develop bowel and bladder problems, dysfunction
is experienced by many.
Constipation occurs frequently in Parkinson’s, affecting
over 50% of individuals, which is significantly higher
than in the general population – around 15% (Sakakibra
et al, 2003). It is one of the most common non-motor
symptoms and can precede development of the
disease. Faecal incontinence, when it occurs, is
usually due to overflow around faecal impaction.
Bladder dysfunction in Parkinson’s can affect up to 40%
of individuals (Winge & Fowler, 2006). The earliest and
most commonly reported complaint is nocturia (waking
at night one or more times to pass urine), followed by
urgency, frequency and urge incontinence. The early
development of severe bladder dysfunction, such as
urgency, frequency and incontinence, may indicate
an alternative diagnosis, such as multiple system
atrophy (MSA).
Bowel and bladder dysfunction is a source of
discomfort for any person and can add to the distress
of a patient with Parkinson’s, affecting their quality of life.
Many patients are embarrassed about discussing their
bowels and bladder so, as a nurse, building an open
and trusting relationship is important. A willingness to
discuss individual difficulties with patients and carers
can lead to positive steps to alleviate them.
Bowel dysfunction
Identifying bowel dysfunction
Constipation is defined as less than three bowel
How often do they open their bowels and what is
their usual stool type? (eg The Bristol Stool Scale)
movements a week (Winge et al, 2003). It is the
Do they have an ability to sense bowel fullness?
most common bowel problem in Parkinson’s and
Do they get pain before or with a bowel movement?
has several causes. There is evidence of autonomic
failure due to the presence of Lewy bodies in the gut
wall, which impair contraction of the colon and result
in constipation. Other causes include:
reduced physical mobility
inadequate fibre and fluid intake due to chewing and
swallowing problems
problems emptying the bowel due to weak abdominal
Is there any blood or mucus?
Do they strain or have a sense of incomplete
Do they take any laxatives?
Have they or do they use digital stimulation for
evacuation of stool?
Do they get urgency or can they hold on?
straining and the anal sphincter not relaxing (functional
Have they had any urge or passive incontinence?
outlet obstruction)
Can they control flatus and distinguish flatus
medications such as anticholinergics, iron or analgesics
Assessing bowel function
Constipation not only impairs quality of life but also
affects dopaminergic drug absorption, making the
symptoms of Parkinson’s worse, so it is important to
from stool?
Are they using pads?
Is there any skin irritation?
Is there an obstetric history or other relevant past
medical history?
check if there are any concerns with bowel function.
Do they have any problems with bladder control?
The following factors should be considered when
Do they have a physical difficulty with toilet access/
carrying out a nursing assessment:
ability to use the toilet independently?
Treatment and management of bowel dysfunction
The aim is a predictable and effective bowel evacuation.
Many people with Parkinson’s disease find eating a
Information may be given to the patient regarding the
very slow process and, because of muscle rigidity, may
following, but referral to a dietitian or continence nurse
have chewing and swallowing difficulties. A dietitian
should be considered if there is not an improvement in
can advise on how to achieve a manageable,
symptoms on the follow-up evaluation.
balanced diet that will help to prevent constipation.
Fluid intake
Patients with Parkinson’s may try to cut down on
fluids in an attempt to avoid continence problems; this
should be discouraged as it can lead to constipation.
Increasing dietary fibre and fluid intake (at least eight
glasses of water a day) should be encouraged.
Many people experience a laxative effect when
hot drinks are taken.
The muscle rigidity and bradykinesia (slowness of
circumstances allow. This will stimulate the bowel and
If attention to diet, fluid intake, exercise and toilet
help to prevent constipation.
access fails to alleviate constipation, laxatives or
Position and habit
suppositories should be considered. Occasionally,
Good posture while sitting on the toilet is important.
severe constipation will require treatment by enema or
Sitting with the upper body slightly forward, the
manual evacuation. The use of laxatives is not specific
forearms resting on the thighs with knees above the
to Parkinson’s and the choice of laxative should be
hips will assist the opening of the bowels. Patients
determined by the cause of constipation.
should allow time for defecation and not put off the
urge to go to the toilet. Setting aside time to go to
Eating times should be regular and a diet with adequate
the toilet after meals can help to develop healthy
fibre and roughage (from vegetables, fruit, bran-based
bowel habits.
movement) symptomatic of Parkinson’s restrict the
patient’s ability to engage in the physical activity
and exercise that is helpful in preventing constipation.
as possible, to carry out regularly any form of exercise
that they can manage, and to keep as active as their
cereals and wholemeal bread) encouraged.
Bladder dysfunction
Identifying bladder dysfunction
Nocturia is the earliest and most common lower
urinary tract symptom reported by individuals with
Parkinson’s. The International Continence Society
defines nocturia as one or more night-time voids.
Nocturia contributes to fatigue, memory deficits,
depression, increased risk of heart disease,
gastrointestinal disorders and, at times, traumatic
injury through falls. Identifying nocturia, determining
the cause and treating it effectively are keys to
improving patients’ quality of life.
overactivity of neurogenic origin appears to result
from disinhibition of the ponto-mesencephalic
micturition centre.
Where there are refractory or persistent bladder
problems, referral to a person with urological
expertise should be considered. Other management
approaches include the exclusion of urinary tract
infection and diabetes mellitus. Sometimes,
anticholinergic agents are used, but since these drugs
cross the blood-brain barrier they must be used with
caution as they may induce a toxic confusional state.
In individuals with Parkinson’s, nocturia is usually
followed by symptoms of urinary frequency and
urgency as the condition progresses. This is thought
to be due to neurogenic detrusor overactivity –
previously called ‘detrusor hyper-reflexia’. Detrusor
Other drugs may be available that do not cross the
blood-brain barrier.
Mild autonomic dysfunction is common in the later
stages of Parkinson’s, but early presentation of
They should be encouraged to move about as much
bladder symptoms (in particular urinary urgency and
urinary frequency, in addition to urinary incontinence
and incomplete bladder emptying) should alert the
clinician to the possibility of a diagnosis of MSA.
Assessing bladder function
During the nurse’s assessment, the following should
be covered:
Whether there is any frequency, urgency, hesitancy,
nocturia or incontinence
The onset and duration of symptoms
Whether there is a relationship to being ‘on’ or ‘off’
What fluid is taken and when (consider caffeine and
alcohol intake)
Any relevant past medical history
Problems with mobility, bradykinesia and dexterity
What the person’s expectations are (eradication or
reduction of the symptoms)
A urine sample should be checked for leukocytes and
nitrates, to eliminate infection. A specimen will need
to be sent for microbiology, culture and sensitivity if
positive. If the person continues to complain of urinary
frequency and urgency and there is no underlying
infection, a pre- and post-void bladder scan should
be performed by a competent practitioner. When the
post-void residual is less than 150ml, information on
bladder training should be given. If more than 150ml, a
referral to the specialist continence service or urologist
should be made for further advice and management.
Treatment and management of bladder dysfunction
Fluid intake
Concentrated urine can irritate the bladder so it is
Intermittent catheterisation
Check the patient’s degree of mobility, as the level
of akinesia, bradykinesia and rigidity all affect the
individual’s ability to reach the toilet. Ensuring that
there is easy access to the toilet, a hand-held urinal
or discreetly placed commode may help in certain
situations. The occupational therapist (OT) will
be able to advise on obtaining these items, as well
as toilet seat raisers and grab rails. In certain
circumstances, it may be possible to get a grant for
household/bathroom adaptations – the OT can also
assist with this.
This is useful in patients who have incomplete bladder
emptying (residual urine over 100ml). The person may
Removal or adjustment of clothing may be difficult.
Clothes may be adapted to help in maintaining
continence. For example, zip fasteners or buttons
may be awkward for a patient to manage. The use
of Velcro for fastenings may help. The OT can often
advise on suitable clothing.
important to maintain a good fluid intake of 1.5–2
litres (eight to ten drinks) a day.
Bladder training
This involves keeping a bladder diary on frequency of
urination and then attempting to suppress the urge to
urinate, extending the times between visits to the toilet
when possible. This can be a challenge, so support from
specialist continence services is important for success.
be able to do this for himself or herself or the carer
may do it for them. Factors to consider are the
person’s mobility, dexterity, cognitive function and
motivation. When it is clinically indicated, the patient
should discuss the advantages and disadvantages
with the specialist continence service or urologist.
Indwelling or suprapubic catheters
As Parkinson’s progresses, some patients may choose
this option to improve their quality of life. This, again,
should be discussed with the specialist continence
service or urologist.
External appliances
There are many types of products available,
including pants and pads or urinary sheaths for
men. Advice from a continence nurse specialist and
liaison with the district nurse is important to get the
most appropriate equipment.
Determining the causes of bowel and bladder
dysfunction and treating it effectively are key in
improving patients’ quality of life. The assessment
and management of bowel and bladder problems in
Parkinson’s require multidisciplinary input.
A nurse is often one of the professionals who has
regular, close contact with the person with Parkinson’s
and their family or carer. The nurse will have the ability
and opportunity to carry out regular holistic assessments
and evaluations, particularly when there are changes in
their condition. This means that nurses are in a good
position to make an appropriate and timely referral to
the continence team or relevant person when problems
with continence are highlighted.
Key points
Bowel and bladder dysfunction are experienced by many people with Parkinson’s.
Constipation not only impairs the quality of life of patients but also affects
dopaminergic drug absorption.
Where there are refractory or persistent bladder problems, referral to a person with
urological expertise should be considered.
Early presentation of bladder symptoms (in particular urinary urgency, frequency
and incomplete emptying) should alert the clinician to the possibility of a diagnosis
of multiple system atrophy (MSA).
Useful contacts
The Disabled Living Foundation (DLF)
380–384 Harrow Road
London W9 2HU
Helpline: 0845 130 9177 (Mon–Fri, 10am–4pm)
Bladder and Bowel Foundation
SATRA Innovation Park
Rockingham Road
Northants NN16 9JH
Counsellor Helpline: 0845 345 0165
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National Association for Continence
Communication and swallowing problems
Many people with Parkinson’s disease suffer from
disorders in their speech (collectively referred to as
dysarthria) and swallowing (referred to as dysphagia).
Up to 49% report speech disturbances and 50–80%
experience a degree of dysphagia (Oxtoby, 1982;
Leopold & Kagel; 1996). The symptoms of
bradykinesia and rigidity mean that people with
Parkinson’s also tend to give fewer non-verbal cues,
such as facial expressions and hand gestures. All
these factors can lead to the person with Parkinson’s
being embarrassed, upset and socially isolated.
Communication difficulties in Parkinson’s
Deterioration in speech is a common manifestation of
Parkinson’s that increases in frequency and intensity
with the progression of the disease. It is important to
consider referral to a speech and language therapist
(SLT) sooner rather than later to maximise the person’s
learning ability. The referral can be from a variety of
professional disciplines, including nurses who are
involved with continuing assessment and management
of the person with Parkinson’s.
What can be a problem?
The specific type of dysarthria associated with
Parkinson’s is known as hypokinetic dysarthria.
The main features that make it distinct from other
types of dysarthria are:
reduced volume and a breathy, whispery or harsh
voice quality. There is often disturbed resonance,
which is often hypernasal a result of reduced ability
of the soft palate to seal off the nasal cavity.
Speech can lack fluency due to a ‘stuttering’ speech
pattern, frequent pauses, word blocks, and repetition
of syllables, sound or words.
Slowed movement of the tongue and lips results in
imperfect articulation. Difficulties changing pitch and
volume result in ‘flattened’ speech, without natural
melody or rhythm. A listener’s impression is of a
progressive reduction in volume but increase in rate.
breathy or harsh voice
monotony with reduced loudness and pitch range
While some people with Parkinson’s will develop
difficulties in initiating speech
dementia, most will experience changes in intellectual
variable rate
short rushes of speech
imprecise consonants
These features have been categorised into four main
groups by Marigliani et al (2001), which can help
towards identifying the predominant communication
disorder as part of a functional assessment in
Parkinson’s. Separating the features into manageable
categories also helps when explaining the problem to
the patient.
There is reduced respiratory support for speech as a
result of muscle rigidity, which in turn results in
function. Depression is seen in 50% of people with
Parkinson’s (Metman in: Wolters et al, 2006). A reduction
in general cognitive function and depression affects
language ability. There may be problems with auditory
comprehension, topic maintenance and initiation of
conversation, inappropriate cessation of sentences and
limited eye contact, facial expression and body language.
Treatment of speech problems
The primary aim is to teach simple strategies
to encourage conscious attention to speech.
Early referral to a SLT is important in order that the
person with Parkinson’s may learn and retain these
skills before their disease has progressed to a stage
where their cognitive ability is affected. The approach
to treatment will vary according to the individual’s
speech pattern assessment by the SLT and their ability
to learn new strategies. Techniques range from
exercises to improve facial expression and breathing
control, speed of speech and stress intonation and
the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT), employed
to increase voicing and improve articulation.
Nurses can be aware of the patient’s exercises,
to help reinforce the lessons learnt, and make use
of the PDS information sheet on SLT.
Other ways to help your patient with communication
is by not:
forcing them to speak if they don’t want to
talking for them
interrupting them
insisting that they pronounce each word perfectly
getting irritated when they cannot communicate
ignoring them (the ‘does he take sugar?’ scenario)
voice amplifiers – for use in conversation or on
the phone
pacing boards – a board divided into blocks that the
person points to while speaking to help them break
down speech into manageable units
word chart
pen and paper
portable keyboards with speech output
People with Parkinson’s experience small, spidery,
illegible writing called micrographia. They start off
normally but progress across the page to micrographia
and writing becomes difficult to read beyond a
sentence, which means communication is difficult.
If speech is a problem as well, other means, such as a
Lightwriter, should be considered. Writing with block
capitals does help, as does making a conscious effort
to lift the hand from the page, or using a thick/padded
pen or felt tip pen. Sometimes tremor interferes,
making the writing look ‘shaky’. Stopping and trying
to relax beforehand can help, though this is
Referral to the OT is helpful as they can further advise
on all aspects of handwriting.
isolating them
Swallowing difficulties in Parkinson’s (dysphagia)
Dysphagia eventually occurs in up to 50–80% of
fear of swallowing
people with Parkinson’s (Marks et al in: Playfer &
a ‘gurgly’ voice
Hindle, 2001). The SLT has a key role in the
coughing before, during or after swallowing
management of swallowing problems, helping to
minimise the risk of aspiration, malnutrition and
disturbed intake of medications
dehydration. Dysphagia poses a major problem to
reduced social contact
the taking of medications that are critical in the
history of chest infections
successful management of Parkinson’s.
Swallowing difficulties in Parkinson’s usually relate to
Treatment of swallowing problems
disease severity and may affect all phases of the
swallow process.
Signs of dysphagia include:
Speech and language therapy
Assessment of the swallow should be carried out by a
SLT. Procedures such as videofluroscopy (modified
barium swallow) or fibreoptic endoscopic evaluation of
weight loss
swallowing safety (FEESS) may be used to look at the
It is important to be aware that speech can be affected
by timings of Parkinson’s medication. Nurses can make
patients aware of this by encouraging them to keep an
‘on/off’ diary to pinpoint problem times. Picking the
optimum time to speak will also help. Performing two
tasks simultaneously (eg walking and talking) is difficult
for people with Parkinson’s, because smooth automatic
movement is impaired as the contribution of the basal
ganglia is reduced.
In severe dysarthria, individuals may benefit from
communication aids such as:
swallow in more detail. Explanation of the normal
swallowing mechanism and the effect of Parkinson’s
on it are valuable in helping the person deal with
problems. Management of swallowing problems may
involve the use of oro-facial exercises, learning specific
swallow manoeuvres, modifying food thickness and
co-ordinating meal times with ‘on’ times.
Drooling and difficulty swallowing saliva is reported by
up to 78% of people with Parkinson’s (Marks et al in:
Playfer & Hindle, 2001). The nurse can make the person
aware that this occurs as a result of failing to swallow
frequently enough or autonomic dysfunction, suggest
simple measures to help alleviate this (eg prompting to
swallow) and ensure a referral to a SLT has been made.
The cause of the problem is not excessive saliva
production but pooling of saliva due to a combination of
an impaired swallow mechanism, head-down position
and poor oral muscular control. The SLT can advise on
head control, lip closure and awareness. Swallowing
prompts, such as a bleeper badge, may help.
The involvement of the dietitian is important, should
the person be identified as nutritionally at risk by
anyone involved with the patient. After a detailed
assessment, the dietitian will advise strategies such
as eating little and often, taking snacks between meals
and the addition of nutritional supplements to help
maintain adequate levels of hydration and nutrition.
There may be times when the person cannot swallow
safely or meet their nutritional requirements. In this
circumstance, alternative feeding (eg nasogastric or
percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube – PEG)
may need to be considered. It is important that this is
a team decision that will provide actual benefit to the
patient. The wishes of the person with Parkinson’s and
their family and carers should be taken into account.
How can a nurse help?
A nurse is often one of the professionals who has
regular, close contact with the person with Parkinson’s
and their family or carer. The nurse will have the ability
and opportunity to carry out a holistic assessment and
evaluation regularly, particularly when there are
changes in their condition. They are in a pivotal
position to make appropriate and timely referral to
the SLT, where problems with speech, swallowing or
communication are highlighted, and the dietitian,
where nutritional intake is not adequate, and offer
practical advice where appropriate.
Speech, swallowing and communication problems are
very common in Parkinson’s. The treatment involves
the development of strategies that will maintain
function, as the disease progresses, and the
introduction of aids as necessary.
Key points
Communication and swallowing problems in Parkinson’s occur as a result of the
disease process and can lead to the person with Parkinson’s being embarrassed,
upset and socially isolated.
Treatment is multidisciplinary and patient-focused.
Complementary therapies
Complementary therapies are non-medical treatments
that may be used in addition to or alongside conventional
treatments and drugs. Sometimes they are referred to as
alternative therapies. Complementary therapies do not
offer a cure for Parkinson’s but may help to ease
symptoms and make coping with Parkinson’s easier.
The Department of Health acknowledges that there
are now numerous complementary therapies available
in the UK and that they could feature in the range
of services that local NHS organisations provide.
Points to consider
It is important that patients considering complementary
therapies inform their healthcare team and do not
discontinue use of any prescribed medicines – they
should be used in addition to, not instead of,
conventional medicine.
The nurse has an important role in encouraging the
person with Parkinson’s to take responsibility for their
health and wellbeing, and should provide support
and advice when patients are considering using
complementary therapies.
The PDS booklet Complementary Therapies and
Parkinson’s Disease is a valuable resource that explains
what complementary therapies are, how they are
regulated, how to find a reputable therapist and other
points to consider. It also has an extensive index of
complementary therapies, from acupuncture to yoga.
As the use of complementary therapies is common
among people with Parkinson’s, further studies using a
rigorous scientific method are needed to determine the
safety and efficacy of alternative therapies, and to improve
the knowledge of patients and healthcare professionals of
their potential benefits. The PDS has supported research
into some complementary therapies, such as reflexology,
acupuncture and conductive education.
Key points
Complementary therapies do not offer a cure for Parkinson’s but may help to ease
symptoms and make coping with Parkinson’s easier.
Further studies using a rigorous scientific method are needed to determine the safety
and efficacy of alternative therapies in Parkinson’s.
The nurse has an important role in providing support and advice when patients are
considering using complementary therapies.
Patients with Parkinson’s often turn to complementary
therapy and non-prescribed medication with the hope
of improving their quality of life.
Mental and physical benefits include postural control,
fitness, relaxation, social interaction and personal
development. Those used for relaxation have been
found to be particularly helpful, as it is known that stress
can exacerbate some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Drug management
The initial treatment of Parkinson’s, Tarsey (2006)
suggests, begins with diagnosis, patient education and
then discussion of when and which drug treatments to
initiate. Drug therapy may not be used in the early
stages of the condition and the decision to start
treatment and which option to use should be
considered together with the doctor, the person with
Parkinson’s and their family. The nurse has a valuable
role at this time in providing clear, accessible
information and support to the person and their family.
Sometimes people need time to consider the options.
Providing information, such as the PDS booklet The
Drug Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease, can help the
person with Parkinson’s make an informed decision.
Drugs will not stop the progression of the disease
but will usually decrease the symptoms. People with
Parkinson’s usually take medication for the rest of their
lives; stopping medication at any time will mean a return
of the symptoms. The choice of drug treatment is
specific to that individual and will take into account
clinical and lifestyle characteristics and patient preference
(after being informed of the short- and long-term benefits
and drawbacks of the suggested drug). Once started, a
drug regimen will not always stay the same. The patient’s
individual, specifically timed drug regimen is as vital as
the dose. As the condition progresses, increasing doses
and different combinations of drugs may be tried.
What kinds of drug treatments are available?
The most effective drug in the treatment of Parkinson’s,
and one of the oldest, is levodopa (L-dopa). Despite the
increasing number of anti-Parkinson’s agents developed
over the last 30 years, it remains the most effective
anti-Parkinson’s treatment.
However, it is known that long-term use of L-dopa
is associated with motor complications, including
dyskinesias and motor fluctuations. These motor
complications affect as many as 30–50% of patients
after two years of L-dopa therapy (Poewe in: Olanow
2004). This has led to the development of treatment
strategies that provide continuous dopaminergic
receptor stimulation (CDS); including dopamine
agonists, catechol-o-methyltransferase (COMT)
inhibitors and monoamine oxidase
(MAO) inhibitors.
Dopamine agonists act directly on post-synaptic
dopamine receptors. They are less effective than L-dopa.
One of them – apomorphine – can be administered as a
subcutaneous infusion. COMT and MAO inhibitors prevent
the metabolism of dopamine and, hence, extend its
Other treatments for Parkinson’s include amantadine (an
antiviral agent that has anti-Parkinson’s potential and
helps to reduce drug-induced dyskinesia, although its
exact mechanism is not clear) and anticholinergic drugs
(the oldest anti-Parkinson’s class of drugs, used to
reduce tremor, but not often prescribed today).
To date, all the drugs used to treat Parkinson’s are
symptomatic and there is no treatment proven to cure
Parkinson’s or delay its progression. Around the world,
there is active research into identifying an agent that will
be neuroprotective and slow the progression of neuronal
loss that occurs in Parkinson’s.
Drugs currently used in Parkinson’s
Levodopa (L-dopa)
L-dopa has been the standard symptomatic therapy for
Parkinson’s for more than 30 years. L-dopa is the
precursor of dopamine, the neurotransmitter deficient in
Parkinson’s. L-dopa is metabolised into dopamine after
oral administration by the enzyme dopa decarboxylase
(DDC). Dopamine, which cannot cross the blood-brain
barrier, accumulates in the periphery, stimulating the
area postrema (‘vomiting centre’), causing nausea
and vomiting.
increases the amount of L-dopa that crosses the
blood-brain barrier.
Intravenous and enteral infusions of various L-dopa
solutions have been under investigation for over 30 years.
The most recent development is duodenal infusion via a
percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube (PEG).
To prevent the peripheral conversion of L-dopa to
dopamine, it is combined with a peripheral dopa
decarboxylase inhibitor (DDCI) – in the case of
Madopar; benserazide and Sinemet; carbidopa. This not
only helps reduce dopamine-related side effects but
Current formulations of L-dopa
Generic name
Brand name
Madopar (oral)
Sinemet (oral)
Duodopa (intestinal gel)
There are a number of formulations of Madopar and Sinemet containing different amounts of the drugs:
Levodopa (mg)
Benserazide (mg)
Madopar 62.5 capsule
Madopar 125 capsule
Madopar 250 capsule
Madopar 62.5 dispersible
scored tablet
Madopar 125 dispersible
scored tablet
Madopar CR (125) capsule
In general, it is better to start with low doses of
L-dopa and increase the dose slowly to minimise
side effects such as nausea, vomiting and hypotension.
The lowest dose of L-dopa that gives a satisfactory
clinical response should be used to reduce the
development of motor complications.
L-dopa (mg)
Carbidopa (mg)
Sinemet 62.5 scored tablet
Sinemet 110 scored tablet
Sinemet 275 scored tablet
Sinemet plus (125)
scored tablet
Half Sinemet CR (125)
scored tablet
Sinemet CR (250)
scored tablet
Controlled release (CR) preparations are released
when a quick response is needed. It can also be used
slowly, over six to eight hours. They should not be
when swallowing is difficult, but it does not last as long
broken in half, crushed or chewed. They are useful for
as standard tablets or capsules. Once dispersed, as
night-time control, on retiring to bed, but are not as
with all dispersible preparations, there will be a
predictable in their release during the daytime. Patients
chalky/gritty residue left in the glass. This does not
prescribed half Sinemet CR should check they are not
contain any drug and is only the agent used to release
given Sinemet CR by mistake and should not be
the drug.
asked to break the tablet.
There is no dispersible form of Sinemet but the tablet
Dispersible Madopar (but not the capsules) can be
(except CR) can be crushed and mixed with liquid or
dissolved in water. The idea is that, as a soluble, form
yoghurt to make swallowing easier or to get quicker
it will be absorbed quickly (20 minutes on an empty
absorption and response, as above.
stomach) and can be uses as a ‘kick start’ or ‘rescue’
L-dopa (mg/ml)
Carbidopa (mg/ml)
Intestinal gel
Duodenal infusion of L-dopa is a recently licensed
therapy in the UK, though has been used throughout
the rest of Europe for more than ten years.
The indications for use of duodenal L-dopa are for
advanced Parkinson’s patients with severe motor
fluctuations when available combinations of current
Parkinson’s medications are unsatisfactory. The person
must be responsive to L-dopa and be able to manage
the portable pump and intestinal tube(s). A positive
clinical response to nasogastric infusion is required,
before insertion of a PEG.
Advantages of L-dopa
L-dopa is the most effective drug in the treatment of
Parkinson’s. Its efficacy can be enhanced by the use
of co-administration of a catechol-O-methyl
transferase (COMT) inhibitor, which reduces
methylation of L-dopa in the gut, increasing its
absorption and its half-life.
Disadvantages of L-dopa
L-dopa is effective throughout the course of
Parkinson’s but, as an effect of disease progression
and loss of the dopaminergic cells, its effects are
changed. Long-term treatment with L-dopa is
associated with motor complications such as
dyskinesias (drug-induced, involuntary movements,
including chorea and dystonia) and motor fluctuations
(end of dose, unpredictable ‘offs’, freezing episodes).
Motor complications develop faster in young-onset
Parkinson’s. Altering the delivery of L-dopa, the use of
dopamine agonists, amantadine and, in some cases,
functional surgery can help to improve
drug-induced dyskinesias. Patients can also
experience fluctuations in non-motor symptoms.
There is evidence of an increased incidence of
malignant melanoma in those treated with L-dopa.
It is thought that malignant melanoma cells possess a
unique biochemical pathway for converting L-dopa to
melamine, which could precipitate development of a
preclinical melanoma. However, the observed effect is
weak – around one excess case per 3,500 patients
with Parkinson’s per year.
Dopamine agonists (DA) directly stimulate post-synaptic
dopaminergic receptors in the striatum. They are
effective when used alone or as adjunct treatment,
but eventually patients will need supplementation with
L-dopa. Treatment with DA is started at low doses and
titrated over several weeks
or months to achieve therapeutic benefit.
Oral and transdermal preparations
Generic name
Brand name
Parlodel (oral)
Cabaser (oral)
Celance (oral)
Mirapexin (oral)
Requip (oral)
Ergot derived
Non-ergot derived
Neupro (transdermal patch)
DAs have a longer duration of action than L-dopa
and there is evidence that DAs produce fewer motor
complications than L-dopa if used early on in the
disease process. Some DAs can be used as
monotherapy, as well as adjunct therapy.
On starting a DA, nausea and vomiting can occur but
can be alleviated by the use of domperidone for the
titration period. There have been reports of excessive
daytime sleepiness with DAs and patients should be
warned of this.
DAs are associated with dose-dependent
neuropsychiatric side effects, especially hallucinations
and psychosis, which are more common in elderly
people. Ergot derivatives (ergolines pergolide and
cabergoline) have also been associated with the rare
complications of pleura, pericardial and retroperitoneal
Dopamine agonists
fibrosing serositis. The NICE Guideline for Parkinson’s
disease (2006) recommends that if an ergot-derived
dopamine agonist is used, the patient should have a
minimum of renal function tests, erythrocyte sedimentation
rate (ESR) and chest radiograph performed, before
starting treatment and annually thereafter. In view of this,
a non-ergot-derived agonist should be preferred, in
most cases.
A potential class effect of DAs is impulse control disorder.
This affects a very small percentage of people treated
with DAs. Symptoms can include an increase
in risk taking, increased libido, hypersexuality and
pathological gambling. The nurse has an important role
in explaining to the patient that changes in behaviour
can occur. Changes in behaviour should be closely
monitored and changes in medication made if necessary
as the effect is usually reversible on reduction or
discontinuation of the drug.
Subcutaneous DA preparations
Generic name
Brand name
Apomorphine is a potent D1 and D2 dopamine
agonist, given subcutaneously either as intermittent
injection or, more usually, as a daytime infusion.
Rapid, reliable response. Effective in management of
severe motor complications.
Increased risk of neuropsychiatric complications –
hallucinations, euphoria, increased libido, confusion,
personality changes, agitation and psychosis.
There is formation of skin nodules in some patients
and orthostatic hypotension, haemolytic anaemia and
eosinophilia can potentially occur. Its initiation should
be restricted to expert units with facilities for
appropriate monitoring.
MAO-B inhibitors
Generic name
Brand name
Eldepryl (oral)
Zelapar/Zydis (buccal)
Azilect (oral)
Selegiline and rasagiline are monoamine oxidase type B
inhibitors (MAO-B inhibitors). They slow the metabolism
of dopamine, thereby increasing its level in the striatum.
Few side effects. MAO-B inhibitors may be used to
reduce motor fluctuations in people with later Parkinson’s.
Selegiline acts as a stimulant as it is metabolised to
amphetamine-like metabolites, so should be avoided
later in the day and withdrawn very slowly to avoid
withdrawal symptoms.
Rasagiline is not metabolised to amphetamine-like
There is potential for interaction with SSRIs in both
selegiline and rasagiline, with the risk of central
nervous system side effects.
COMT inhibitors (drugs that block the metabolism of dopamine)
Generic name
Brand name
Comtess (oral)
Tasmar (oral)
Stalevo (oral)
Two COMT inhibitors are available: entacapone and
tolcapone. Tolcapone was the first COMT inhibitor to
enter clinical practice in England and Wales but its
European product licence was withdrawn in November
1998 after three cases of fatal hepatic toxicity.
However, after further clinical experience and research,
it has recently been re-introduced in Europe. It is
currently licensed for use in patients for whom
entacapone has failed and requires intensive monitoring
of liver function. It is available in a 100mg tablet.
Stalevo, introduced in November 2003, is a triple
combination of L-dopa, carbidopa and entacapone in
a single tablet. It is available as 50, 100 and 150mg
L-dopa strengths.
When used with L-dopa, this leads to a 30–50% increase
in L-dopa half-life, resulting in more ‘on’ time.
Side effects are related to those of increased L-dopa
levels: dyskinesia, nausea and vomiting, visual
hallucinations and orthostatic hypotension. They can
be managed by lowering the dose of L-dopa before or
after commencement of COMT. Other reported side
effects include abdominal pain, loose stool or severe
diarrhoea that can be managed by reducing or
discontinuing COMT.
Antimuscarinic (also called anticholinergics) – drugs that block the action of acetylcholine
Generic name
Brand name
Trihexyphenidyl (previously Benzhexol)
Broflex, Artane, Agitane (oral)
Disipal (oral)
Cogentin (oral)
Kemadrin, Arpicolin (oral)
Anticholinergics have been used to treat Parkinson’s for
over 100 years. They were introduced in the late 19th
century after Charcot’s work with hyoscine (scopolamine).
Anticholinergics are less commonly prescribed these days.
Their effect on bradykinesia and rigidity is of little value but
they can be useful in the treatment of severe tremor, but
they are not a drug of first choice, due to limited efficacy
and the tendency to cause neuropsychiatric side effects.
Useful for treating young people with early Parkinson’s
and severe tremor.
Not drugs of first choice due to limited efficacy and
the propensity to cause neuropsychiatric side effects.
Can cause dry mouth, blurred vision and constipation.
Catechol-O-methyl transferase (COMT) inhibitors
work by reducing the methylation of L-dopa.
This increases L-dopa half-life, resulting in more stable
plasma L-dopa concentrations. They are ineffective
when given alone.
Miscellaneous – amantadine
Generic name
Brand name
Symmetrel (oral)
Amantadine is an antiviral agent found by chance to
be effective in symptomatic treatment of Parkinson’s.
How the drug works is unclear but there are several
proposed mechanisms of action:
It enhances the release of dopamine and inhibits
its re-uptake.
It has antimuscarinic (anticholinergic) properties.
It has antiglutamatergic properties.
Its effect is mild and short-lived. It can cause confusion
and hallucinations, especially in the older patient.
It can cause ankle oedema and sometimes brings a
mottled colour to the legs (livedo reticularis) – this is
unsightly but harmless.
Withdrawal of amantadine can be difficult and should
be done gradually.
It has antidyskinetic effects and is available as a syrup,
as well as a tablet. It can have a stimulating effect so
can help with tiredness (but should be avoided late in
the day as it will then cause insomnia).
Nursing issues of drug management in Parkinson’s
Nurses are involved in drug administration either in
hospital or in the community. MacMahon & Thomas
(1998) point out that the timing of doses and
compliance with a complex regimen of drugs and diet
may be critical, and the involvement of a skilled nurse
will ease the burden on the person with Parkinson’s.
Nurses are also key in educating people with Parkinson’s,
their carers and professionals involved in their care about
the dangers of sudden cessation of drugs.
Changes to prescribing regulations mean that
Parkinson’s Disease Nurse Specialists (PDNS) can
obtain a qualification allowing them to be an independent
Timing of medication
As responses to drugs are variable, treatment regimens
differ from person to person. To get the right balance
between benefit and any side effects, the individual will
need to understand and be involved in which drugs
are being used and why drug timing is so important.
The timing of the drugs is important in order to achieve
continuous dopaminergic stimulation (CDS) for the
optimal control of symptoms and to reduce the
incidence of motor complications. If a person with
Parkinson’s is unable to take their prescribed
Parkinson’s medication at the right time for them, there
is a disruption to their dopamine levels. This may lead
to a worsening of their symptoms, which can take
some time to stabilise again.
Errors and delays can happen when a person is
admitted to a hospital, nursing home or going on holiday.
When admission to a home or ward occurs, it is
important for staff to be aware of why the timing of these
drugs is so important and to make sure medication
times are accurately documented. When going away, the
person with Parkinson’s should ensure they have enough
medication supplies and have worked out a transient
timing regime with their doctor or specialist nurse to
deal with different time zones or long-haul flights.
Allowing patients to control the exact timing of their
medication can be empowering. It can, however, be
problematic when it becomes associated with an
uncommon disorder called dopamine dysregulation
syndrome (previously called hedonistic homeostatic
Patients may exhibit an increase in libido and
hypersexuality or pathological gambling associated
with dopamine agonist treatment – this is referred to
as impulse control disorder. Its management is
complicated and the nurse should be aware of the
syndrome in order to provide appropriate management
and support.
Education and compliance
Nurses have an important role in not only sharing
their knowledge with the person with Parkinson’s
and their carer but by encouraging patients to take
responsibility for their health and wellbeing.
Patients must be taught to recognise the symptoms of
Parkinson’s and the side effects of drug treatments in
order to become ‘expert’ in managing their condition,
and the nurse is ideally placed to help with this.
Compliance with drug regimens will suffer if the patient
does not understand drug side effects or the different
symptoms of the condition and how they respond
to their drugs.
Patients can take part in their local Expert Patients
Programme (EPP), which can help them to manage
their symptoms. The EPP was set up in 2002 as one
of a range of new policies and initiatives to modernise
the NHS and to emphasise the importance of the
patient in the design and delivery of services. The EPP
is a national Community Interest Company (CIC)
course, designed to help people manage life with a
long-term condition. It is delivered by tutors who are
themselves living with a long-term condition and can
help people to, among many things, manage their
medication and improve their quality of life.
Dietary considerations
When dopaminergic drugs are first started, the
manufacturer and pharmacy information sheets advise
taking the drugs after food, in order to help alleviate the
common early side effects of nausea and vomiting.
These symptoms are attributed to dopamine
accumulating in the periphery and stimulating the area
postrema (‘vomiting centre’).
Many patients find that their dose of L-dopa is less
effective or may fail altogether after a meal. There are
several reasons for this. One is the competition
between protein and L-dopa for absorption from the
gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream. In such
cases, it is recommended that the L-dopa be taken not
less than 30 minutes before or 60 minutes after meals.
Sometimes redistribution of the protein intake is
recommended. Dopamine agonists are not affected in
this way. Another cause is the slowing of gastric
emptying, which delays drug absorption and can cause
unpredictable drug absorption. The most common
cause of this is large, high-fat meals. Again, taking the
medication not less than 30 minutes before or 60
minutes after meals may help.
Neuroleptic malignant syndrome
Neuroleptic malignant syndrome is a rare,
life-threatening reaction in people exposed to
neuroleptic medication. It can also occur in
Parkinson’s patients for the same reason or after
sudden withdrawal of anti-Parkinson’s drugs.
It is characterised by hyperthermia, muscle rigidity,
altered level of consciousness, autonomic instability
and elevated serum creatine kinease (CK) level.
Onset of symptoms is about one to nine days.
The major complications are respiratory, renal and
cardiovascular failure; it carries a significant mortality.
The nurse has an important role in ensuring
that patients and professionals understand that
anti-Parkinson’s medication should not be withdrawn
abruptly or allowed to fail suddenly due to poor
absorption (eg gastroenteritis, abdominal surgery) in
order to avoid the potential for neuroleptic malignant
syndrome. Similarly, the practice of withdrawing
patients from their anti-Parkinson’s drugs, so called
‘drug holidays’, to reduce motor complications has
been abandoned because of the risk of neuroleptic
malignant syndrome.
A diagnosis of Parkinson’s can be a frightening thing.
Education is essential in order to give the person
with Parkinson’s a sense of control and understanding
of the disease. In the earlier stages of the diagnosis,
too much knowledge can be alarming. Selective
information is usually more helpful and the PDS has
many publications that can help the person and their
family understand more about Parkinson’s and the
drugs used to treat symptoms.
Most people quickly develop a tolerance to drug-induced
nausea and vomiting and can eventually take the
medication without food. Some people need to take an
anti-emetic, such as Domperidone, until tolerance has
developed. Domperidone is the only oral anti-emetic
recommended for people with Parkinson’s, as it does
not easily cross the blood-brain barrier and block
dopaminergic receptors, causing extrapyramidal
symptoms (ie symptoms of Parkinson’s).
Nurse prescribing
The role of a PDNS is diverse, encompassing a wealth
of knowledge and skills, including the monitoring and
management of medication. Changes to prescribing
regulations have meant that some PDNSs are now
qualified to prescribe independently.
The ability to prescribe will further improve the care of
people with Parkinson’s by making it easier for them to
get the medication they need when they need it.
At present there is no pharmacological agent
that slows down the progression of Parkinson’s.
The ultimate aim is to develop a cure for the condition,
ie to allow a person with Parkinson’s to live a life free
from symptoms.
Nurses have an important role in providing information
on drug treatments, helping the patient to make an
informed decision on how to manage their symptoms.
Nurses are key in helping the patient manage complex
drug changes or, in the later stages of the disease, to
withdraw treatment as toxicity may become a problem.
Key points
There is a wide range of drugs available to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s,
which are tailored to the individual.
Sudden discontinuation of treatment should be avoided as it can result in
neuroleptic malignant syndrome, which can be fatal.
Timing of drug regimens is important and should be adhered to in hospital and
nursing/residential homes or when on holiday.
Nurse prescribing enhances the service given to a person with Parkinson’s.
Nurses have a key role in helping the patient manage complex drug regimens.
Mobility problems
The main disabling feature of Parkinson’s is akinesia
(absence of or reduced functionality of movements),
which results in difficulty in performing day-to-day
activities. Akinesia comprises most or all of the
following deficits:
Slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
Difficulty initiating movement
Progressive fatiguing and diminishing amplitude
of repetitive, alternating movements
Difficulty in performing two simultaneous
Along with regular reviews by the neurologist, PDNS or
link nurse, consideration from the time of diagnosis
should be given to referring people with Parkinson’s
to a physiotherapist and occupational therapist (OT).
A physiotherapist has a key role in maximising functional
ability and minimising secondary complications, using
movement rehabilitation. An OT has a role in helping
individuals manage the practical aspects of everyday life.
or sequential motor acts
Mobility problems specific to Parkinson’s
Initial gait impairment is seen as a reduction in stride
length and gait speed. A reduction in knee flexion
results in the common picture of dragging the foot.
In more advanced cases, the person is severely flexed
forward and will ‘chase’ their centre of gravity in order
to stop falling (festinant gait).
‘Freezing’ can occur with any movement but is most
troublesome when it involves gait. It is particularly
evident on gait initiation and turning or moving in
narrow spaces. Freezing can occur in both ‘on’ and
‘off’ states. In the ‘off’ state, it is usually responsive to
manipulation of Parkinson’s medication. Management
of freezing when ‘on’ is more difficult and not always
responsive to drug manipulation.
Freezing can also be exacerbated by anxiety.
When freezing occurs, it can often be helped by
the use of various techniques that involve the use
of cueing strategies. These can be external (visual,
auditory, proprioceptive) or internal (cognitive).
Visual cues – Stepping over a visual cue on the floor.
For example, white strips of tape can aid step length
and initiation problems in confined spaces. A coloured
marker at eye level can provide a visual prompt to
maintain large steps in a corridor. Sometimes, if a
cluttered room is the problem, the OT can give advice
on how to reduce hazards in the environment.
Auditory cues – Metronomes can be worn to aid gait
initiation. Counting out a rhythm or singing and walking
in time with this, or a vocal instruction to step, can also
be beneficial.
Proprioceptive cues – Taking a step back before
starting to walk, rocking gently from side to side or
marching on the spot before stepping.
Cognitive cues – Breaking down a movement
sequence (such as turning over in bed) into
component parts. Each component part acts as a cue
that can be used to initiate and maintain movement.
Using these strategies when ‘on’ will make the task
more successful.
How do cueing strategies work?
Cueing strategies work by bypassing the dysfunctional
basal ganglia. It is thought that, normally, the basal
ganglia, in conjunction with the supplementary motor
area, triggers the action of sequential motor
movements. When the contribution of the basal
ganglia is reduced (as in Parkinson’s), this process is
interrupted and smooth automatic movement is
impaired. The use of external (eg visual) and internal
Poverty of movement (hypokinesia)
With disease progression, a flexed posture develops,
gait is affected and postural instability occurs, often
resulting in falls.
(cognitive) cues enhances cortical mechanisms to
activate and sustain movement (possibly via the
pre-frontal regions of the brain) and compensates
for reduced basal ganglia input.
flexibility is regular exercise. Individuals should be
When standing, the person with Parkinson’s can have
a tendency to topple forwards. Posturography studies
of Parkinson’s patients (on a multidirectional mobile
platform who are deliberately thrown off balance)
show an inability to produce a quick and strong
enough postural response to stop themselves
from falling.
encouraged to continue their normal activities, rather
Why this occurs is not clear, but it may be connected
to reducing muscle strength, slower psychomotor
speed and reduced planter sensation, as a result of
loss of pressure receptors in the feet. There is also a
growing recognition that a fear of falls can have a
negative effect on postural control.
Balance control may be improved by cognitive strategies,
such as concentrating attention on visual information and
other cues, to bypass the dysfunctional mechanism.
The general idea is that the malfunctioning automatic
programme is substituted with a conscious motor
In Parkinson’s, when standing, there is flexion at all
joints, giving the person a stooped or simian posture.
The most effective way to preserve musculoskeletal
than shy away from them, as well as taking part in
formalised exercise programmes. Such exercise
classes aim to achieve better posture by minimising
musculoskeletal limitations and postural deformities
in order to preserve independent function. Additional
benefits include improved cardio respiratory fitness,
general feelings of wellbeing and a reduction in falls.
The PDS booklet and video Keeping Moving is a very
helpful resource. Many of the Society’s branches also
organise regular exercise groups. Information regarding
these can be found by calling the PDS Helpline.
Referral to a physiotherapist is more beneficial to
the individual early on in the disease process.
A physiotherapist can help to prevent future physical
complications and maximise the person’s functional
capacity and role in society. Areas that can be addressed
include gait re-education and improvement of balance,
flexibility and movement initiation.
Other key issues in the management of mobility
in Parkinson’s
loss of arm swing
Falls are a major source of hospitalisation and
institutionalisation in the UK. In the UK, two-thirds of
people with Parkinson’s fall at least once each year,
and many of them are at risk of falling again. The most
devastating complication of falling is fracture, in
particular the neck of the femur. The risk of this can
be reduced by 80–100% by the correct use of hip
protectors (Bloem et al, 2003).
fear of falling again, once a fall has occurred
The NICE Guideline on falls (2004) recommends that
older people be asked routinely whether they have
fallen in the past year, about the frequency, context
and characteristics of the fall(s) and that this should be
part of the nurse’s written assessment. Individuals at
risk of falling and their carers should be offered
information orally and in writing about what measures
Factors specific to Parkinson’s that can cause
falls include:
they can take to prevent further falls. The PDS
longer disease duration
which provides further details.
an advanced stage of disease
produces an information sheet, Falls and Parkinson’s,
When the individual reports recurrent falls within the
postural instability
year, the NICE guidance is that they should be offered
a multifactorial falls risk assessment. The nurse is in a
small steps (festination)
good position to make such an assessment and refer
to the falls service, physiotherapist or OT, all of whom
will help in the assessment of activities of daily living.
Nurses can suggest the following to help maintain
They can advise on ways to make the home safe and
blood pressure:
manageable and how to improve posture and balance
a 30–40 degree elevation of the head of the bed at
and thus mobility, helping towards preventing or
night (as this may reduce salt and water loss by
reducing the risk of falls.
stimulation of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone
Orthostatic (postural) hypotension
Orthostatic hypotension was found in a recent UK
community study by Allcock et al (2003) to occur in
48% of people with Parkinson’s, and was often the
cause of falling.
increasing dietary salt and fluid intake, eating small
meals and avoiding alcohol
the use of compression stockings (to at least
thigh height)
Giving the person literature such as the PDS
a disease. The American Autonomic Society and
information sheet Low blood pressure and Parkinson’s
The American Academy of Neurology reached a
is useful for further information and reminders.
consensus in 1996 that to measure properly for
orthostatic hypotension, the person should be supine
for at least ten minutes before taking the reading.
The person should then stand up and the reading
taken within three minutes of standing. If there is a fall
in blood pressure greater than or equal to 20mmHg
systolic or to less than 90mmHg systolic on standing,
the person has orthostatic hypotension. Patients who
are experiencing orthostatic hypotension may
complain of dizziness, visual disturbances, falling or
If these measures do not help, pharmacological
treatment should be considered. This can include the
reduction or discontinuation of antihypertensives or
diuretics, reviewing anti-Parkinson’s treatments and
considering the use of other drugs to raise the blood
pressure, such as fludrocortisone. Persisting or
troublesome orthostatic hypotension should be
referred on to a unit with expertise in falls and
fainting. It can be due to central or peripheral
autonomic dysfunction or as a result of Parkinson’s
Feet must be kept in good condition if the patient is to
medications, antihypertensives or co-morbidities such
retain mobility. Foot problems, such as calluses, corns
as anaemia.
or ingrowing toenails, can affect balance. An early
It is important to raise awareness with the individual
about things that will lower the blood pressure.
referral to a podiatrist, where necessary, is advisable
and can be initiated by the nurse.
An ideal time is during nurse consultations, either
over the phone or in clinic. This could include:
Many people with Parkinson’s experience poor vision.
It is important to ensure they have had a recent
eyesight test to rule out easily treated problems.
Typically, their vision is normal but they often
experience blurred or double vision. It is now known
that vision is affected in Parkinson’s and is associated
with abnormalities in ocular motor control and the
ability to discriminate contrasting colours. Problems
with vision can be a cause of poor mobility and falls,
and should be investigated and, where possible,
treated. Practical interventions that the nurse can
suggest include good lighting in all areas, assuring
good colour contrast between floor or wall and
transition areas, avoiding clutter and low-lying, low
colour-contrast furniture and avoiding confusing
patterns on floor coverings.
rapid postural changes (especially in the mornings
when getting out of bed when the supine blood
pressure is at its lowest)
the effects of food and alcohol (which can cause
splanchnic vasodilation and postprandial
hot weather/baths (which can cause cutaneous
vasodilation as a result of impaired thermoregulation)
physical exertion (which can cause skeletal muscle
vasodilation not opposed by sympathetic
avoiding straining at micturition or defecation,
playing wind instruments or singing (which raises
intrathorasic pressure, ie inducing a Valsalva
manoeuvre, causing postural hypotension)
Orthostatic hypotension is a physical sign and not
Pain can occur in up to 50% of people with
Parkinson’s (Drake et al, 2005). Treating pain in
Parkinson’s begins by adequately treating the
symptoms of Parkinson’s itself. This is because the
pain may be related to motor fluctuations, early
morning dystonia or akathesia (an inner feeling of
restlessness leading to an inability to keep still) –
problems that are often responsive to appropriate
dopaminergic treatment. Musculoskeletal pain, which
can be secondary to rigidity, and hypokinesia may be
responsive to simple analgesia.
The nurse can encourage the person to keep a diary of
when the pain occurs and the type of pain (neuropathic,
burning or paraesthetic), which helps to clarify what type
of pain is being treated. Referral to a pain clinic for
analgesic advice should be considered by the nursing
and medical team and, although the use of deep brain
stimulation for pain in Parkinson’s has been explored,
further investigation is required before its use becomes
The aim is to maximise functional ability and minimise
secondary complications to keep the person with
Parkinson’s safe, independent and socially integrated for
as long as possible. Nurses often have regular, close
or carer. The opportunity to regularly carry out holistic
assessment and evaluation, particularly when there are
changes in their condition, results in appropriate and
timely referrals to the physiotherapist, OT or other
contact with the person with Parkinson’s and their family
specialist teams.
Key points
The management of mobility problems in Parkinson’s requires a multidisciplinary
Consideration from the time of diagnosis should be given to referring people with
Parkinson’s to a physiotherapist, occupational therapist or multifactorial falls service.
The mobility problems specific to Parkinson’s affect gait, balance and posture.
Other issues in the management of mobility in Parkinson’s include falls, postural
hypotension, foot and visual problems and pain management.
Neuropsychiatric problems
Parkinson’s is now seen not only as a motor disorder but
also as a movement disorder with non-motor symptoms
(NMS) that can affect cognition, behaviour and mood.
Mental dysfunction in Parkinson’s
Cognitive impairment
Cognitive impairment refers to changes in intellectual
function. There is increasing recognition that cognitive
impairment in Parkinson’s presents early in the
disease process. The range of cognitive impairment
seen in Parkinson’s relates to frontal lobe function with
deficits in planning, sequencing and working memory.
Dementia is not a typical feature of early Parkinson’s
but many people with the condition will have mild
cognitive impairment. A significant number of people
with Parkinson’s (up to 50%) will, over time, develop
cognitive changes severe enough to warrant a
diagnosis of dementia.
The effect of such difficulties can have a profound
effect on daily life. The management and treatment of
cognitive dysfunction should be multidisciplinary.
Education of the patient and family is crucial. Patients
are often relieved that there is a reason for their
problem and they are not ‘losing their mind’, and
family can understand behaviours and develop plans
to accommodate them. Involving the OT is important,
as they can help with cognitive assessment and
appropriate interventions to manage day-to-day living.
Traditionally, dementia developing more than one year
after the onset of the motor features of Parkinson’s is
referred to as Parkinson’s disease with dementia
(PDD). Patients who present with dementia within one
year of the onset of motor features are classified as
having dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB).
Pharmacological treatment of cognitive impairments
in Parkinson’s has coincided with the treatment of
dementia. Although cholinesterase inhibitors have
been used successfully in individual people with
Parkinson’s dementia, further research is
recommended to identify those patients who will
benefit from this treatment.
DLB is a primary dementing disorder characterised by
cognitive fluctuations (resembling a chronic confusional
state), visual hallucinations and mild parkinsonism.
Neuropathologically, it is characterised by the
presence of neuronal inclusions, called Lewy bodies,
in various brain regions.
PDD is progressive and characterised by a severe
disturbance of the ability to plan (dysexecutive syndrome),
marked cognitive slowing and intellectual function with
impairment of visuospatial abilities and memory.
Differentiating DLB from PDD on clinical grounds alone
is almost impossible; the most obvious difference is
early onset of dementia in DLB, whereas dementia
usually occurs after 8–10 years of motor symptoms
The neuropsychiatric problems of Parkinson’s range
from anxiety to frank dementia and psychosis and can
be more disabling than problems with motor function.
As the nurse may be the first port of call for distressed
relatives, there is a need to be aware of the problems
that can occur, to offer appropriate information,
support and referral to the multidisciplinary team.
Cognitive impairment and dementia, depression, anxiety,
apathy, sleep disturbance, behavioural disturbances and
visual hallucinations are the most common mental
dysfunction in Parkinson’s. Cross-sectional studies have
shown that more than 60% of Parkinson’s patients will
have at least one psychiatric symptom and, in
addition, 50% will have cognitive impairment, 30%
dementia and 38% visual hallucinations (Aarsland
& Ehrt in Wolters 2006).
in PDD. The relationship between PDD, Parkinson’s
disease and DLB is unclear but many consider them
to be a continuum rather than discrete entities.
Rarely, dementia may arise due to other treatable
illnesses. Dementia is also a feature of disorders such as
normal-pressure hydrocephalus, Whipple’s disease or
dementia pugilistica. Therefore, all people with dementia
require careful evaluation of their medical condition, and
treatment and investigations to clarify the diagnosis,
with attention to potentially treatable conditions.
Depression is common in Parkinson’s and can predate
the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s by several years.
Recent community-based studies suggest that major
depression occurs in up to 10% of Parkinson’s patients,
while up to 50% suffer some form of depression
(Metman in: Wolters, 2006). The development of
depression creates an added burden for people with
Parkinson’s and their carers and its impact on healthrelated quality of life is high, but optimal treatment
remains uncertain.
It is unclear how much the depression in Parkinson’s is
due to damage to the serotonergic neurotransmission
system, as well as limbic noradrenergic and
dopaminergic systems, or a result of psychosocial
effects of chronic disease. The NICE Guideline for
Parkinson’s (2006) suggests that the inconsistent
relationship between mood changes and the severity
of motor symptoms indicates that depression should
not simply be considered a reaction to motor disability.
Drug and therapy treatment of depression in Parkinson’s
is not sufficiently evidenced and there is an urgent need
for further research. There are case reports suggesting
that some antidepressants may make Parkinson’s
motor symptoms worse and there are established, but
rare, interactions between some antidepressants and
dopaminergic therapy for Parkinson’s, eg MAO-B
inhibitors and antidepressants. Currently, selective
serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most
common class of drug used in clinical practice for
people with Parkinson’s.
Anxiety and apathy
Anxiety disorders are common in Parkinson’s and can
be a preclinical indicator of the disease. Anxiety can
present as panic attacks, phobias or generalised
anxiety, and can often be related to drug-induced
motor fluctuations.
Medication is not recommended for every anxiety
disorder but SSRIs and beta-blockers have been
used. Psychotherapies such as cognitive behavioural
therapy (CBT), where the person looks at problems
from a different perspective, can be helpful.
Apathy is now known to be a particular symptom of
Parkinson’s, independent of depression and fatigue,
and responds minimally to dopaminergic drugs,
perhaps indicating involvement with other
neurotransmitter pathways.
Neuropsychiatric sleep disturbance
As many as 98% of patients with Parkinson’s will
suffer from sleep disturbances at some time but,
Assessing depression in Parkinson’s is challenging as
many of the symptoms of depression overlap with the
motor features of Parkinson’s. The main characteristic
features of depression are low mood, loss of interest and
enjoyment, and fatigue. There is also a disturbance of
cognitive function and thought processes, which may
result in poor concentration and memory, excessive
worry, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and guilt,
negative views of self and life, and thoughts of suicide.
Any suicidal thoughts should prompt an urgent referral to
psychiatric services for evaluation.
Routine screening for depression is justified, as it is
common in Parkinson’s. There are several self-reporting
scales that are useful tools in monitoring and evaluating
depression in Parkinson’s: the Geriatric Depression Scale
and Beck’s Depression Inventory.
in spite of this, they are often underdiagnosed and
undertreated (Dhawan et al, 2006). Sleep difficulties
have an impact not only on the quality of life of the
person with Parkinson’s but also the carer, and should
not be underestimated.
The causes of sleep disturbance are multifactorial
but degeneration of the sleep regulation centres in
the brainstem and related thalamocortical pathways
are implicated. The neurospychiatric problems of
sleep disturbance include:
depression-related insomnia
REM behaviour disorder (RBD)
vivid dreams or nightmares
panic attacks
Depression-related insomnia Depression, which is
common in Parkinson’s, affects sleep quality. It can
lead to REM behaviour disorder (RBD), insomnia and
nocturnal hallucinations. Active treatment with sedating
and antidepressant therapy with/without psychiatric
counselling support can to help improve sleep quality.
Urgent treatment is warranted as RBD is potentially
dangerous for the patient and their partner. Relief can
be found by the use of the benzodiazepine clonazepam,
although the mechanism is unknown. The symptoms of
RBD occur in about a third of patients with Parkinson’s
and may predate the diagnosis of Parkinson’s in up to
40% of patients (Chaudhuri et al, 2006).
pathological gambling
abuse of dopaminergic drugs
obsessive-compulsive behaviour and punding
Optimal management includes prudent use of
dopaminergic and psychiatric medications and
non-pharmacological therapies. Education and support
are also very important for the patient and carer, to help
them understand and cope with the problem.
Hypersexuality Aberrant sexual behaviour and
hypersexuality is more common in men with
Parkinson’s. It forms part of the impulse control disorder
syndrome, which is linked to dopaminergic drug
treatment in susceptible patients.
Disinhibition This refers to inappropriate social and
interpersonal behaviours and can be a characteristic
of another condition or an independent syndrome.
The impulse behaviour can be dangerous or merely
socially embarrassing.
Mania and hypomania Patients with a medical
Vivid dreams, nightmares and hallucinations
Other psychiatric sleep symptoms, such as distressing
dreams or hallucinations, require that alternative diagnosis
be considered (multiple system atrophy, DLB or
progressive supranuclear palsy). Vivid dreaming is
common in patients being treated with dopaminergic
drugs and is not always a significant problem. If the
dreams are distressing or getting worse, they could be a
prodrome of daytime hallucinations and should be
followed clinically by a review of all medication, with
avoidance of any drugs that may affect sleep or alertness,
or may interact with other medication.
history of bipolar disorder may experience an
Panic attacks Panic attacks can occur during ‘off’
states, with some patients feeling that they are going
to die. If this is the case, treatment strategies should
be aimed at decreasing ‘off’ time, after looking at the
patients ‘on/off’ diary. Some forms of anxiety may also
manifest themselves as panic attacks.
sexual activity).
Behavioural disturbances
Abuse of dopaminergic therapy – dopamine
dysregulation syndrome Some patients develop a
routine of excessive use of dopaminergic replacement
therapy. It is more common in young onset Parkinson’s
males. It forms part of the dopamine dysregulation
Parkinson’s is associated with several types of
behavioural disturbances that seem to be a result
of dopaminergic treatment, rather than a specific
non-motor symptom. These include:
exacerbation of these symptoms in response to
dopaminergic treatment, while some patients develop
these symptoms as a result. Mania is a mood disorder
characterised by an elevated, expansive or irritable
mood and an inflated sense of self-confidence,
self-esteem or grandiosity. Other features include
flight of ideas, hyperactive thoughts and talking, and a
decreased need for sleep. In hypomania, the symptoms
are the same but less severe. Manic and hypomanic
people act impulsively and become excessively involved
in pleasurable, risk-taking behaviours (eg gambling or
Pathological gambling The desire to gamble
impulsively becomes destructive, causing severe
financial and relationship problems. In Parkinson’s,
men are more affected than women. It forms part
of the dopamine dysregulation syndrome.
syndrome, which is linked to dopaminergic drug
treatment in susceptible patients.
REM behaviour disorder (RBD) RBD is a
parasomnia characterised by loss of the normal
skeletal atonia during REM sleep. This allows those
affected to act out dreams, which can be vivid and
usually frightening. Actions may range from mild
restlessness to more severe movement, in which
patients can vocalise, leap out of bed or attack
their sleeping partner while acting out a dream.
mania and hypomania
Impulse control disorder is a potential class effect of
dopamine agonist therapy but can also occur with
L-dopa. This affects a very small percentage of people
treated with dopamine agonists. Symptoms can
include an increase in risk-taking, increased
libido, hypersexuality and pathological gambling.
Management includes reduction of dopaminergic
treatment as the effect is usually reversible on
reduction or discontinuation of the drug, or switching
from one dopamine agonist to another.
Obsessive-compulsive behaviour This is linked to,
but not the same as, obsessive-compulsive disorder
(OCD), which occurs in about 2% of the population,
although some people with Parkinson’s do have OCD
(Marsh in: Menza & Marsh, 2006). In obsessive
compulsive behaviour, the obsessions can be
persistent images or impulses, the compulsive
behaviour senseless and ritualistically carried out in a
driven manner to combat the anxiety brought on by
obsessions. An example would be an obsession with
dirt, with a compulsion to continually wash hands.
Punding This refers to stereotypical behaviour in
which there is repetitive performance of meaningless
tasks. This can manifest itself in a variety of ways.
There may be repetitive handling, examination or
sorting and arranging of objects. Patients tend to find
the behaviour calming and become irritable if forced to
stop. In severe cases, patients will stay awake all night,
neglecting food and sleep.
Psychosis and visual hallucinations
Psychotic symptoms in Parkinson’s include hallucinations,
delusions and their associated behavioural changes.
They can happen at any stage in the disease process.
Up to 50% of people with Parkinson’s can develop
psychotic symptoms and 30% may experience
hallucinations within the first five years (NICE, 2006).
Hallucinations are defined as abnormal perceptions in
any sensory modality in the absence of an external
stimulus. They can occur at any time of day and the
content is usually recurrent. Delusions are defined
as fixed, false, idiosyncratic and unshakeable beliefs
that are maintained despite incontrovertible evidence.
They are usually paranoid in content, focusing on a
single subject, such as spousal infidelity.
Occasionally, auditory hallucinations can occur but
up to 40% of patients with Parkinson’s have visual
hallucinations, which are usually benign (Chaudhuri et
al, 2006). As the disease progresses, delusions,
paranoid thoughts and delirium (a disordered state of
mind with incoherent speech and hallucinations)
become more frequent.
The appearance of psychotic symptoms requires careful
evaluation. Psychotic symptoms may occur as part of
delirium. Delirium can occur in advanced dementia or
a co-morbid mental illness. It can be induced by toxic
confusional states, and intercurrent causes, such as
infections, metabolic disturbances, drug interactions,
constipation, dopaminergic treatments or falls with
subdural haematoma, need to be excluded.
The aetiology of psychotic symptoms in Parkinson’s is
complex. They may arise from the neuro-transmitter
disturbances of Parkinson’s itself but can also be caused
by any of the drugs used to treat motor symptoms.
The NICE Guideline for Parkinson’s (2006) suggests that
the initial treatment of psychosis should include a general
medical assessment and treatment of any potential
causative factor. Mild psychotic symptoms, if tolerated by
the person with Parkinson’s, need not be actively treated.
Otherwise, consideration should be given to withdrawal
of any recently added medication that may have triggered
a psychotic reaction. There are drugs that are particularly
prone to trigger psychosis, such as anticholinergics
selegiline and amantadine. In more severe psychosis,
use of atypical antipsychotics should be considered.
Typical antipsychotics are not recommended as they
exacerbate the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Psychosis is one of the leading causes of nursing
home placement in Parkinson’s patients. It can affect the
quality of life of the person and their family and be more
disabling than the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Psychotic symptoms are distressing and may be
frightening to people with Parkinson’s and their carers,
who may not appreciate that they are symptoms of
illness. It is essential to explain the nature of these
symptoms, and the nurse in the role of educator and
supporter is ideally placed to do so. The PDS has
produced information relating to many of these
problems that is useful for patients and their carers.
The dopamine dysregulation syndrome (previously
called homeostatic hedonistic dysregulation),
recognised in younger onset patients, seems to be
a result of dopaminergic treatment, rather than a
specific non-motor symptom.
Cognitive impairment and dementia, depression,
anxiety, apathy, sleep disturbance, behavioural
disturbances and visual hallucinations are the
most common mental dysfunctions in Parkinson’s.
Nurses can make a difference to people affected by
the neuropsychiatric problems in Parkinson’s as they
can offer support, information and ensure the person
is involved with the appropriate members of the MDT.
Key points
The neuropsychiatric symptoms of Parkinson’s can affect the quality of life of the
person and their family and be more disabling than the motor symptoms of
More than 60% of Parkinson’s patients have at least one psychiatric symptom.
The PDS has a wealth of information available that can provide supporting
Nurses can make a difference to people affected by the neuropsychiatric problems
in Parkinson’s.
Sexual function and intimate relationships
Sexuality is one of the most complex aspects of being
human and many people experience sexual difficulties
in their lives.
There are many reasons – physical, psychological and
social – why people with Parkinson’s might experience
problems within their sexual relationships. For some,
the recognition that life with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s
will never be the same can cause a total disruption to
what individuals perceived as normal. Diminishing
communication skills, fluctuating mood, a negative
self-image and social isolation can cause distress, not
only for the person with Parkinson’s but also for their
sexual partner.
It has been recognised for some time now that
neurological disease and trauma cause sexual
dysfunction. In people with Parkinson’s, sexual
dysfunction is not uncommon: 50% of men and
women may have a sexual problem (Chandler &
Brown, 1998), but 50% do not, so it is important to
remember that having Parkinson’s does not mean that
sexual dysfunction is inevitable.
What can be a problem?
In both men and women with Parkinson’s, there may
be a decrease in sexual interest, desire, arousal and
orgasm. Not all problems can be explained by
Parkinson’s or drug side effects.
The management of sexual dysfunction in a person with
Parkinson’s must include an initial screening for other
underlying causes. Things such as diabetes, excessive
alcohol intake, antihypertensive drugs, depression and
anxiety can also be the cause of impotence and sexual
dysfunction. Listening is very important in order to help
with anxieties about sex and relationships.
appearance, although this was not statistically different
from the control group. Overall, the women with
Parkinson’s were less satisfied with their sexual
relationships and with their partners. There are other
reports of difficulty with arousal (genital sensitivity or
decreased mucosal lubrication), orgasmic difficulty,
dyspareunia or vaginismus.
Anecdotal evidence from newsletters published by the
PDS indicates that women with Parkinson’s have their
own specific concerns about sexuality that may not be
recognised or anticipated by healthcare professionals.
Female sexual dysfunction
It is important that treatment of these problems
“I can’t move around a lot, so it’s just a case of he
does all the work and ... it can be very painful because
when I am taut, my muscles go tight.”
involves a sensitive discussion with the woman and
(Parkinson’s disease: the effects on womanhood,
Schartau et al, 2003)
screening for any other physical causes. Treatment
options include psychosexual counselling, oestrogen
therapy for vaginal dryness and testosterone therapy
for low libido. Sildenafil (Viagra) has been successful in
non-Parkinson’s females, although it is not yet known
Female sexual dysfunction is a common health
problem. In one of the first studies devoted entirely
to sexuality in women with Parkinson’s by Welsh et al
(1997), definite differences were found when compared
with an age-matched population. These women
reported greater anxiety or inhibition, vaginal tightness
and involuntary urination (related to sexual activity).
There was a pre-occupation with health problems that
interfere with sex, and dissatisfaction with body
if it will be of benefit to women with Parkinson’s.
Male sexual dysfunction
The most commonly reported sexual problem
for men with Parkinson’s is erectile dysfunction.
Causes include cardiovascular disease, diabetes,
hypertension, hypercholesterolaemia, smoking, spinal
cord injury, prostate cancer, surgery, psychiatric
disorders and the use of particular drugs, such as
alcohol, antihypertensives and antidepressants.
Erectile dysfunction could also be the initial
manifestation of autonomic dysfunction.
It is estimated by Singer et al (1989) that the
prevalence of erectile dysfunction in men with
Parkinson’s is greater than the general population;
at 60% compared to 37.5% in an age-matched,
healthy, non-parkinsonian group.
Patten (1996) states that impotence is a source of
great anxiety and frustration and may be responsible
for divorce in 50% of couples, where one person has
a chronic neurological illness.
MSA can be difficult to distinguish from Parkinson’s,
especially in the early stages. It is important, therefore,
to monitor lying and standing blood pressure before
prescribing sildenafil to men with Parkinson’s and to
make them aware of the symptoms of orthostatic
hypotension. Symptoms of orthostatic hypotension
include feeling dizzy, vague or light headed, blurred
vision, angina-type pain and generally feeling fatigued
or unwell.
There is a possible role for the dopamine agonist
apomorphine in erectile dysfunction. As well as
improving motor symptoms, this drug, as a side effect,
can induce penile erection in men with Parkinson’s.
However, further research of this option is needed.
Other causes of sexual dysfunction
Physical limitations
Depression occurs in approximately 50% of people
Some of the problems associated with sexual
with Parkinson’s and can result in symptoms of
dysfunction can be linked to motor function, for
tiredness and loss of libido. A study carried out by
example, reduced mobility. A couple may desire
Jacobs et al (2000) found that depressed and
intercourse and begin, only to be disrupted by a
unemployed patients were often dissatisfied with their
sudden onset of Parkinson’s symptoms, eg dystonia,
present sexual relationship, less able to enjoy a small
rigidity or pain, leading to frustrations on both sides.
flirtation and likely to feel lonely more often.
Adjusting drug therapy to decrease unwanted
involuntary movements and optimise mobility can be
useful. Timing lovemaking to take place during optimal
motor function is also something to consider, as well
as different approaches to intimacy.
Stress, tiredness and depression
It must be remembered that, in any relationship, these
factors are likely to reduce sexual desire. Anecdotal
evidence would suggest that carers (particularly female
carers) also experience difficulty in switching from the
role of carer to lover. Research by Jamieson (1999)
found that sexual dysfunction in a partner is strongly
related to the level of impairment in the person with
Parkinson’s. While this may be related to the physical
symptoms, it is possible that stress also plays a part.
Listening and encouraging discussion of the problem,
referral for formal counselling or treatment with
antidepressants may be useful and should be considered.
Hypersexuality and sexual delusions
Even in the face of an inability to perform,
hypersexuality can coexist. It is known that there is a
dose-dependent relationship between hypersexual
behaviour and anti-Parkinson’s drugs, including
L-dopa, selegiline and dopamine agonists.
Hypersexuality and sexual delusion can be a problem
in both sexes. It takes many forms, for example an
increase in libido or desire to act out sexual fantasies
that do not necessarily take place within the constraints
of the current personal relationship. Often the individual
As in female sexual dysfunction, the treatment
approach for erectile dysfunction needs to be
multidisciplinary, due to its complex nature. There are
several therapeutic options to enhance erectile
function that enable intercourse, resulting in an
improved quality of sex life. This can include the use of
psychosexual counselling, external vacuum devices,
surgically implanted penile prostheses or drug
treatments. Drugs can be given locally (intracavernosal
or urethral) or orally.
Oral medications such as sildenafil (Viagra), which
increase blood flow to the penis, are well tolerated in
Parkinson’s. However, as the drug causes vasodilation,
it can lower blood pressure substantially. This can be a
danger in patients with orthostatic hypotension, as in
multiple system atrophy (MSA), where the hypotension
can be severe, causing collapse.
can imagine that their partner is having covert affairs or
is constantly masturbating. Some hallucinate that their
partner is involved in sexual acts with other people or
animals (zoophilia).
As possible causes include large doses of L-dopa or
dopamine agonists, management is aimed at reduction
or withdrawal of treatment but, of course, this may be at
the expense of an increase in their Parkinson’s symptoms.
How can a nurse help?
While it is important that a nursing assessment be carried
out to identify possible causes for problems within a
relationship, perhaps the most important thing nurses
have to offer is time to listen. Being given the opportunity
to express concerns freely for the first time may be a
great relief to the person with Parkinson’s and their
partner. One person who spoke to a nurse felt that they
provided a ‘shoulder to cry on’ (Schartau et al, 2003).
Areas where practical support can
be offered
Communication Verbal and non-verbal communication
skills may be affected in Parkinson’s. If speech is affected
then some people become reluctant to initiate and
maintain conversations so it is important to give the
person time to express themselves. Avoiding excess
background noise, maintaining eye contact and not
rushing the person to respond will lessen their anxiety
and keep them engaged.
If the person also lacks facial expression,
communication can be more difficult. Simple facial
exercises can help to keep tone in the facial muscles.
Self-image Self-esteem can be low because of
difficulties with communication, poor posture,
excessive sweating and drooling. Involvement of a
physiotherapist can help with posture and some
patients find yoga or tai chi helpful. Many of the local
PDS branches run exercise sessions. Excessive
drooling can be helped by reminding the person to
swallow frequently, and sipping iced water can also
elicit a swallow reflex (a speech and language therapist
can help with these problems).
Excessive sweating can occur, predominantly in ‘off’
periods and in ‘on’ periods with dyskinesias. It is
important, therefore, to optimise patients’ drug
treatments. Awareness that personal hygiene needs
may be increased and avoidance of tight, synthetic
fabrics, which encourage sweating, can be suggested.
Social isolation There is a tendency for some people
with Parkinson’s to withdraw from society – to become
introverted. Loss of social understanding within the
family group, peer group and workplace can lead to
feelings of reduced self-worth and a reluctance to
socialise. A key factor causing this reluctance is that,
for many affected people, Parkinson’s is an obvious
illness. People can feel that they stand out in a group
and are embarrassed for themselves, their friends and
family. It is important to remember that even though
individuals may be unable to function fully in roles they
previously fulfilled, these roles should not be denied
them completely.
Mood fluctuations It will be natural for a person with
Parkinson’s to feel depressed and frustrated with their
condition at times. Changes in mood can be related to
medication levels – when a person is ‘on’ they feel
better, but when ‘off’, feelings of anxiety and
pessimistic thoughts can predominate. It is important
to optimise treatment but also explain why the
fluctuations may happen and that they will pass.
There are many reasons – physical, psychological and
social – why people with Parkinson’s might experience
problems within their sexual relationships. Nurses have
an important role in the support of people with
Parkinson’s experiencing relationship difficulties. In a
community study carried out by Jarman et al (2002),
PDNSs were shown to improve the sense of wellbeing
in people with Parkinson’s. A nurse is often one of the
professionals who has regular, close contact with the
person with Parkinson’s and their family or carer.
The nurse will have the ability and opportunity to
regularly carry out holistic assessment, evaluation and
appropriate referral when there are changes in their
condition needing further expertise (PDS et al, 2006).
The challenge for the nurse is to be aware of ways of
working to ensure best practice and to access expert
care and support for people with Parkinson’s.
Key points
Sexual dysfunction is common in women and men with Parkinson’s, but it is
not inevitable.
Clinical and nursing management must involve screening and correcting any other
underlying causes of impotence and sexual dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction in men with Parkinson’s can be the initial manifestation of
autonomic dysfunction.
Anti-Parkinson’s drugs are one of the main causes of hypersexuality in Parkinson’s.
Nurses have an important role in the support of people with Parkinson’s experiencing
relationship difficulties.
Relevant resources from the PDS
Information sheets
Looking After Your Bladder and Bowels in
Parkinsonism (code B060)
Competencies: An integrated career and competency
framework for nurses working in Parkinson’s disease
management (code B115)
Complementary Therapies and Parkinson’s Disease
(code B102)
Parkinson’s and Diet (code B065)
Intimate Relationships (code B034)
The Drug Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease
(code B013)
Apomorphine (APO-go) (code FS26)
Clothing (code FS31)
Communication (code FS06)
Constipation and Parkinson’s (code FS80)
Dementia and Parkinson’s (code FS58)
Dementia with Lewy Bodies (code FS33)
Depression and Parkinson’s (code FS56)
Eating, Swallowing and Saliva Control in Parkinson’s
(code FS22)
Ecstasy and Parkinson’s (code FS47)
Equipment and Disability Aids (code FS59)
Falls and Parkinson’s (code FS39)
Foot Care and Parkinson’s (code FS51)
Gambling and Parkinson’s (code FS84)
Hallucinations and Parkinson’s (code FS11)
International Travel and Parkinson’s (code FS28)
Keeping a Diary: People with Parkinson’s
(code FS69)
Low Blood Pressure and Parkinson’s (code FS50)
Muscle Cramps and Dystonias (code FS43)
Pain in Parkinson’s (code FS37)
Parkinson’s and Eyes (code FS27)
Parkinson’s and Hypersexuality (code FS87)
Parkinsonism (code FS14)
Physiotherapy and Parkinson’s (code FS42)
Pill Timers (code FS53)
Restless Legs Syndrome and Parkinson’s (code FS83)
Sleep and Night-time Problems in Parkinson’s
(code FS30)
Speech and Language Therapy (code FS07)
Telling People About Parkinson’s (code FS88)
Non-motor Symptoms Questionnaire (code B117)
Being There (code V012) – For people who have been
recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s
Keeping Moving – An exercise programme for
people with Parkinson’s disease (code V011 – DVD
and booklet)
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The occupational therapist’s guide
to Parkinson’s disease
To be effective when working with people who have
Parkinson’s, an occupational therapist (OT) needs to
have a general understanding of the common
functional difficulties associated with the condition. It is
beneficial to apply a basic conceptual framework for
understanding the basis of the range of functional
issues experienced by people with Parkinson’s.
Provision of practical interventions to promote function,
including use of various Parkinson’s-specific cognitive
and sensory coping strategies, together with
interventions based on the more generic knowledge
and skills of the OT profession, will facilitate addressing
issues relating to functional impairments and overall
quality of life.
tends to fluctuate and will, as a result, mean that
On an individual level, Parkinson’s is a very variable
condition, with each person experiencing a personal
collection of the common features. Symptom intensity
brain chemistry, may be responsible for the variability
certain functional tasks can be performed with ease
at some times, but be difficult or even ‘impossible’
at other times, not uncommonly on the same day.
Clinical experience shows that sensitivity to functional
facilitation through the use of various cognitive and
sensory management strategies is also individual.
The reason for this has not yet been established but
the life-long interests, habits and life experiences of
an individual with Parkinson’s may perhaps combine
to make one person more responsive to a specific
sensory input, while another responds most
dramatically to another modality. Alternatively,
additional neurological pathology, or subtle changes in
of response. It is possible that a combination of all
these factors are involved.
Use appropriate assessment and communication strategies for
Parkinson’s disease.
Consider teaching use of cueing techniques for improving performance of
problematic motor tasks – cues may be used in the modalities of visual, auditory,
cognitive or proprioceptive ‘inputs’.
Encourage use of mental rehearsal as a preparation for challenging activities.
Provide prompts and reminders, such as cue cards, or an association with a
specific location or feeling to prompt recall and application of specific
management techniques.
Use carefully chosen and well-introduced assistive aids, equipment, adaptations
and technologies to promote independence and reduce strain on carers.
Various Parkinson’s-specific standardised measures,
mainly intended for use in a research context, have
been developed in past years. Among other
Parkinson’s-specific items, functional mobility and
activities of daily living (ADL) parameters are used
within scales such as:
The Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating scale
(UPDRS) – Part 3 ADL score
PDQ39 (a 39-question Parkinson’s Disease Quality
of Life measure)
The confounding effect of ‘doing an
Observation of the functional performance of a person
with Parkinson’s – as in an assessment session – is
unlikely to be representative of actual abilities within
the context of that individual’s daily life. Atypical
performance and uncharacteristic behaviours are
commonly elicited by the presence of an observer.
Tasks performed out of context (eg bed transfers
performed in the mid morning) will rarely reveal
difficulties being experienced with actual performance.
PDQ8 (an eight-question Parkinson’s Disease Quality
of Life measure)
Hoehn & Yahr Staging of Parkinson’s Disease
scale (H&Y)
The Webster scale
Schwab and England Activities of Daily Living scale
These measures provide quantitative data about the
severity, stage or impact of Parkinson’s. They do not,
however, take environmental, social and contextual
factors, or personal relevance of the domains
measured into account.
There is currently no comprehensive, standardised,
Parkinson’s-specific OT assessment. The following
assessment tools are sometimes considered
appropriate by OTs for use with people who
have Parkinson’s:
Assessment of Motor and Process Skills (AMPS)
Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM)
Nottingham Extended Activities of Daily Living
In daily clinical practice, OTs use a wide range of
standardised and in-house assessment formats,
with no single uniform assessment currently being
used in the UK.
Paradoxically, it is common for performance under
observation to be far smoother than usual or more
difficult, or even virtually impossible. People with
Parkinson’s are often quick to fatigue during
performance of just one or several routine activities,
adding a further barrier to accurate assessment.
Time of day and time since last dose of anti-Parkinson’s
medication also influence ability. In addition, actual
performance tends to vary over the 24-hour period.
Perhaps such variability is, in part, due to changes in
time of day, mood, context and degree of motivation
at the time of actual performance. For all these
reasons, use of the assessment methods outlined
below are recommended.
Assessment methods suitable for people
with Parkinson’s
Assessment needs to be well structured (logical and
relevant) and to be assessor-led, as patients tend to
make little spontaneous elaboration and may not state
all aspects of a problem, unless asked directly.
Functional difficulties will often only be revealed by
asking for details about elements of ability, if common
functional difficulties are initially denied (for this, an
OT needs an awareness of functional issues related
to Parkinson’s).
Priorities for therapy
It is encouraging, and perhaps in part due to the
impact of the whole-person approach promoted as a
core philosophy of the OT profession, that use of a
person-centred approach is becoming increasingly
mainstream in health and social care. A personcentred approach is very appropriate for people with
Parkinson’s. Often, someone with Parkinson’s will have
a major priority at a particular time. They may also
have difficulty fully attending to anything that does not
address their main ‘short-list’ of priorities. Using the
COPM as a basis for assessment, or by starting an
initial assessment by ‘brainstorming’ a list of main
concerns and goals, ensures that key personal issues
are considered. A close relative or friend may be able to
assist in this process if appropriate. During the course of
intervention, and in subsequent contacts, opportunities
to identify new issues and goals should be included
once original concerns have been addressed.
addressed. At times, it may be necessary to change
tack, more carefully tailor an approach to the current
goals or needs of an individual, or to yield to
resistance (eg as when an individual has ‘made
up their mind’ to have brain surgery to address
their symptoms).
Where non-ADL priorities predominate, it may be
necessary to ‘retreat’ until other issues have been
Gather as much background information as possible prior to conducting an
assessment. If referral details are minimal, consider seeking further information about
reasons for referral to OT from the source of the referral.
Use appropriate communication strategies for all contacts (see Communication
Issues section on page 70).
Discuss functional abilities and then observe performance.
Explore range of ability to conduct specific tasks, eg at different times of day and
night, and in different settings.
Consider functional impact of the ‘on/off’ phenomenon, if anti-Parkinson’s medication
has been in use for several years.
If dyskinesias occur, it can be helpful to establish if this is bi-phasic (occurring near
the start and again near the end of an anti-Parkinson’s medication dose interval) or
peak dose (occurring at the mid point of the dose interval).
Establish list of main concerns and prioritise intervention goals.
Observe behaviour indirectly, thus minimising the confounding effect of the ‘sense of
being watched’.
Sensitivity to personal stamina level, as well as to personal agenda, will need to be
taken into account during the assessment process.
Accommodate for communication problems and other difficulties with interviews
by allowing extra time, to manage delayed verbal responses (associated with
bradyphrenia), and/or take breaks to manage fatigue (perhaps splitting an
assessment into two or more sessions).
Communication issues
Possible problems with communication for people with
Parkinson’s are numerous and may include difficulties
such as:
reduced volume and clarity of speech
absent or reduced social/non-verbal language
and gestures
reduced facial expression and loss of prosody (the
emotional intonation, stresses and emphasis that
give words their depth of meaning)
tiring quickly during conversation
stooped posture, loss of eye contact and difficulties
controlling saliva
increased response times and difficulties keeping up
with frequent changes of subject
rapid (festinating), unintelligible speech
reliance on others to speak on one’s behalf
difficulties using the telephone
shrinking handwriting (micrographia) or scrawly,
illegible writing
Useful communication strategies
Use a quiet environment, or at least minimise
distractions as much as possible.
Allow extra time for responses.
Announce each change and end of topic discussed,
and introduce each new subject.
Provide polite verbal prompts to promote optimum
posture, volume and clarity of speech.
Split sessions or take breaks to manage fatigue.
Provide brief written reminders as memory aids
where relevant.
If possible, avoid having important conversations
during episodes of intense dyskinesia (individuals will
usually have an idea of how long an episode of
dyskinesia will last). As dyskinesia can be very
physically tiring, returning to pursue a conversation
once it has passed should be considered.
Encourage sitting down when using the telephone.
Consider use of a headset, eg if holding the phone
while writing a message is a problem.
Teach handwriting strategies if improved clarity of
writing is desired.
Consider ergonomics and computer adaptations,
eg resetting to reduce mouse difficulties due to
tremor, if a computer is used.
Apathy and motivation
As motivation, initiative and problem-solving skills
are affected by having Parkinson’s, people with the
condition may be less adaptable than others in coping
with their health changes and symptoms. With a highly
complex condition such as Parkinson’s, specific
support and guidance for managing health and coping
with symptoms is generally required. Therapists need
to be aware that extra attention will need to be paid to
facilitating adaptation and adopting change. Some
suggestions for assisting in this area are listed below.
Methods for increasing engagement in
therapy and raising motivation
Acknowledge ambiguity about change. It is important
to acknowledge that change is not easy, while
balancing this by reflecting back any comments
that have been made about ‘... wanting to remain
independent ... cope better etc’, eg comments
about wanting to improve performance
of a specific task, but fearing being unable to do so
because of ‘the Parkinson’s’.
Expressions by the therapist of empathy and
understanding of how people feel aids engagement
and assists development of a therapeutic relationship.
Provide education, particularly related to research
or other people with similar difficulties and ways
that problems have been successfully managed.
Education, given one-to-one initially, allows key
points and information to be paced according to
individual main concerns, style and stamina.
It is of value to give opportunities to talk through
experiences, beliefs and fears related to the
diagnosis, as well as any concerns about specific
symptoms and about what the future holds. It may
also help to promote a more optimistic outlook to
explore understanding about how Parkinson’s is
progressive, but is not a terminal condition.
Build confidence by relaying tales of success of
others in similar circumstances (obviously this must
be done without giving names or other personal
Exposure to peers with positive experiences may
help to raise motivation. Contact with peers who
have gained benefits and confidence in the use of
symptom-management strategies can be of great
value in raising willingness to try different methods.
Give constructive feedback on progress during
supervised practice and further positive reinforcement
at follow-up contacts, to facilitate change.
Do not attempt to change or teach too much too
fast: addressing one or two issues per session is
generally sufficient. The simple principal of doing one
thing at a time applies to OT intervention, as well as
to conducting other cognitive and motor activities.
An effective therapist has the ability to transmit their
belief in an individual’s potential ability to succeed.
Use of these approaches will promote willingness to
try out new methods of performing familiar tasks,
which had been easily conducted before the
development of Parkinson’s.
The benefits and frustrations of aids and equipment
Items that are most useful to people with Parkinson’s
are those with familiar modes of use. Handrails, for
example, can be very useful on stairs and in other
suitable locations. Items that are used spontaneously,
such as chair-raising units or a half-length satin sheet
(to aid moving in bed), will also generally be used.
Learning and memory
Evidence from research shows that new learning in
Parkinson’s subjects is unusually dependent on the
provision of external sensory cues, or provision of very
explicit structuring. Very specific memory problems have
been demonstrated in research involving Parkinson’s
subjects, indicating that an external recall aid is required
to elicit recollection. Recognition, on the other hand, is
usually normal (as when an external prompt or cue is
provided that elicits a memory), but recall, in the absence
of any form of external stimulus, is generally impaired.
Involvement of as many senses as possible, from
intellectual to proprioceptive, can enhance learning
considerably. For example, various mobility strategies can
be taught through the use of the methods that will follow.
On a practical level, sometimes internally recalled
associations may be used as a ‘handle’ to retrieve a
memory. Some patients report that they think of the
therapist who taught them a movement strategy
before remembering the movements to use.
coping strategies for problematic movements, after
Teaching methods for promoting learning
and use of adaptive movement strategies
by people with Parkinson’s
having been learnt in a therapeutic context. Therapists
Discuss any issues and, if relevant, discuss ways
should therefore consider using cue cards, visual
that people with similar difficulties have resolved the
same issue.
The therapist initially demonstrates a movement strategy
that will improve ease of doing a movement, to
provide a visual frame of reference (ensure the patient
watches performance of movements, by giving verbal
prompts to look at the section of the body being moved
if this is not done spontaneously).
Recall aids can help the day-to-day application of
markers/stripes or associations with emotions, or
objects in the environment, eg look across the room
at a picture on the far wall and aim for this to reduce
the tendency of freezing at the doorway when walking
into the room. Or, when feeling nervous when going to
turn around, think ‘Don’t panic. Feet first’ to aid recall
of management techniques.
Frustrating items include those that demand the
learning of novel processes, skills or ideas. Even
simple but unfamiliar items (ie not encountered in the
past), such as a long shoe-horn or a button hook, can
be a source of considerable confusion and frustration
for patient and OT alike. Adjusting to a new car, new
home, new computer, new TV or microwave oven can
therefore present a considerably greater than usual
challenge to someone who has Parkinson’s.
Follow demonstration with practice by the patient,
initially with the therapist providing verbal cues to
guide performance. Use brief, clear descriptions
of actions/instructions, emphasising key words to
provide a verbal frame of reference.
Use guided mental rehearsal (asking the patient
to imagine doing each element of a movement
sequence while remaining still) if getting started is
proving quite difficult.
Physically facilitate limb and body movements if needed,
to give proprioceptive feedback about movements
being learnt, thus aiding the learning process.
Use a backward-chaining approach (focusing on
achievement of the final stage(s) of a sequence
initially and building up skill in reverse order, until a
complete run-through is achieved) if needed.
Patients should be encouraged to talk through key
elements of their movements aloud while performing
them, thus providing their own cues for the
movement sequence.
A cue card can be provided to be put in a place
where it will be seen when doing an activity, hence
aiding transfer of a newly learnt movement strategy
into daily life.
Finally, patients may learn to internalise key words if
able and if preferred.
By providing time for discussion and education about the
effects of insufficient and fluctuating levels of dopamine in
accessible language that is appropriate to the individual,
observable and often dramatic functional benefits can be
achieved. People with Parkinson’s may already realise
that using their attention more consciously, for example,
enables them to perform tasks with greater ease and
better ‘flow’. Once understood and reinforced, greater
application of this approach will usually emerge.
Others, while recognising that greater concentration is
required for routine tasks, may persist in relying on
‘auto-pilot’ for fear that adapting their behaviour would
be equivalent to ‘giving in’, until they are able to gain
a better general understanding of their condition.
Although re-establishment of the ‘auto-pilot’ facility
is not to be expected, habitual application of
management strategies learnt can be of ongoing value.
Clinical experience shows that use of metaphorical and
allegorical language can greatly aid understanding of
any unfamiliar ideas that need to be conveyed.
When teaching strategies for pre-linguistic movement
skills and activities (such as rolling and bed mobility,
sit-to-stand, swallowing, stride length, turning around,
volume or clarity of voice), use of a multi-sensory
approach, as described in the section on learning and
memory, is beneficial.
Current knowledge of the role of the basal ganglia and
its dysfunction, as seen in Parkinson’s, provides a
rationale for the use of cognitive and sensory
management strategies – the three main principles of
which are as follows:
Conscious attention is required for the performance
of well-learnt motor skills and movement sequences
that had been performed automatically prior to the
onset of Parkinson’s. By employing a high level of
attentional resources, as used for performance of a
new task, it appears that physical actions can be
directed via voluntary control mechanisms, effectively
bypassing lower brain involvement. The application of
focused attention seems to reduce spontaneous
reliance on dysfunctional systems, and enables
people with Parkinson’s to be in more direct control
of their motor performance.
Dual-task performance should be avoided wherever
possible. The ‘auto-pilot’ system, which allows
performance of multiple well-known tasks, is impaired
in Parkinson’s. Thus, simultaneous activities – such as
speaking and walking, dressing while listening to the
radio, standing and swallowing tablets – compete for
attentional resources, seriously impairing performance
of the most automatic, least attention-demanding task
(eg maintaining balance). Doing two things at once
should be avoided where at all practical, eg sit to comb
hair, swallow tablets, dress or write. Don’t walk and talk
at the same time. Cut out auditory distractions when
doing a difficult task. Avoid daydreaming or planning
another activity (like what to have for lunch) while
performing a movement task. Learning to use
conscious attention during routine tasks will generally
enhance the quality of performance of the task while
attention is sustained.
Use of cognitive and sensory cues and triggers can
be utilised to guide the flow of motor performance
and ideas.
Concentration on the task at hand is absolutely essential
for enhancing performance. Where concentration or
comprehension is reduced, attention can be facilitated
by giving verbal prompts, turning off distractions such
as TV and radio and strictly avoiding chatting to the
person with Parkinson’s when they are performing a
challenging task. The application of focused attention
(like in the original learning phase of acquiring a new
skill) can be tiring, but will help to increase speed and
flow of movements performed if applied in short bursts
at times when the flow of movements is reduced.
The application of conscious attention is essential
for the enhancement of motor performance,
when using the cognitive and sensory techniques
described below.
Intrinsic cues and triggers
Internal dialogue
several internally generated cueing methods can be
a difficult action or task.
This form of intrinsic cueing entails talking through actions
silently, using simple direct instructions, while actually doing
the movements (as if showing the ropes to someone who
has not done the task before). For example, silently
chanting words when shuffling of gait is a problem, such
as ‘Big steps. Big steps’ can increase stride length
dramatically. Nouns and verbs seem to be the most
effective, eg ‘Grip button … find hole … push button into
hole … and pull’. This type of commentary appears to
employ knowledge and skill remaining intact in the higher
regions of the brain and to bypass dysfunctional basal
ganglia mechanisms. Where this technique is found to be
effective, it can be very reassuring for patients to prove to
themselves that the simple use of internal commentary can
enhance motor performance, as people with Parkinson’s
can be in great fear of ‘losing their mind’ when so many
daily activities lose their spontaneous nature. Alternatively,
some people respond better to saying the commentary
out loud to themselves, thus using an auditory-sensory
pathway, as well as internal cognitive mechanisms.
Mental rehearsal
Imagining in detail the action(s) about to be performed
before commencing the movement seems to
compensate for the lack of pre-movement activity,
which is seen in the normal brain immediately prior to
commencement of movement but which is less
evident in people with Parkinson’s. Remembering or
imagining actions as a preparation for a challenging
task can be done briefly, but must contain as much
detail as possible. Imagining perfect performance is
also necessary for this ‘manual priming’ to be
beneficial prior to actual movement. Sports people
and musicians commonly use this technique to
improve their performances.
Thinking of, remembering and imagining are other ways of
describing this facility in a more accessible way. People
vary in their modes of thought: some are very open to
using their imagination while others relate far more naturally
to other methods. For example, where ‘freezing’ in
doorways or other places occurs, visualising stepping over
something like a log or line (like at the end of a running
track) can sometimes give sufficient stimulus to trigger
restart of walking. Here, distraction helps to break over
activity and the loss of co-ordination between the anterior
and posterior leg muscles. Freezing is a phenomenon of
Parkinson’s often brought on by distraction, or when
moving through an unfamiliar, or visually complex space
(see Visual environmental on page 74).
taught to enhance functional ability. Intrinsic methods
may also sometimes be effective even in the later
stages of the condition, although the teaching of their
use will need to be simplified if introduced at this time.
Positive attitude/emotional set
Expectation of frustration and failure at the outset of
engaging in a task can be common where experience
of poor performance reinforces such ideas. As the
basal ganglia has strong links with the limbic system,
which is associated with emotion, a constructive
attitude and expectation of success (‘I will...’), can
improve function if this idea is held in the mind at the
commencement of performing an action. Emotional
attitude can have a very strong influence on motor
performance and it can be of great benefit to discuss
this in some detail where appropriate. Using mental
rehearsal provides a more constructive preparation for
For those in the early and middle stages of Parkinson’s,
Extrinsic cues and triggers
The use of external sensory stimuli may be the most
effective way to facilitate performance of motor skills in
some cases, and can also aid communication. The need
for conscious attention and concentration throughout
performance remains of paramount importance when
using externally generated cues and triggers, just as
with internally generated cues.
Visual environment
Layout of the environment has a strong influence on
the flow of mobility for those with Parkinson’s. This is
particularly the case where contrast-sensitivity and
subtle visio-spatial disturbances occur. An OT can
facilitate mobility around the home and other frequently
used environments by advising on the repositioning
of furniture to simplify the visual impact of its layout.
Central (coffee) tables should ideally be moved to the
side of the room, thus allowing direct access from
armchair to door, TV and other frequently visited areas
within the room. Patterned floors and carpets may
present special challenges in Parkinson’s, sometimes
inhibiting walking in such an area altogether. Avoidance
of patterns and multiple colours in flooring is
recommended, where possible, to promote ease of
walking around the home. Use of a staggered threshold
(where floor covering is continued through a doorway
ending in the shape of a doormat inside the entrance to
the next room) can also be helpful, if there is different
coloured or textured flooring in two rooms that are used
frequently by someone who freezes at doorways.
In cluttered, crowded and unfamiliar places, pausing
to plan a route and negotiate obstacles safely, as far
ahead as can be seen, can aid ease of walking.
Further pauses to survey and plan again will be
necessary as the next area comes into view.
Visual cues
Evidence from research shows that people with
Parkinson’s are unusually sensitive to visually complex
stimuli. For example, the classic freezing at doorways
and where colour or pattern of flooring changes, eg
carpet to lino, seems to be the result of a kind of
‘visual overload’. Paradoxically, enhancement of motor
function is often most dramatically demonstrated by
use of visual cues. (See also the section about visual
disturbances and management ideas.)
Floor markers
Increased stride length can be facilitated by strips of
coloured tape (eg two-coloured hazard tape or plain
masking tape) applied to the floor in areas where
freezing or difficulty negotiating a turn in a corridor
regularly occur. Strips of adhesive tape approximately
45cm (24in) in length, can be stuck to the floor in
troublesome places. Strips need to be of a colour that
contrasts with the surface below, and should be
placed parallel at intervals to match the normal stride
length for the individual (assess distance using paper
or card strips laid on the floor if desired). Where a 90°
corner or other turn is the problem, strips should be
placed to ‘fan’ around the bend. It is not important
whether the feet fall on or between the strips. They will
only be effective, however, if they are seen and
attended to during use.
Walking up stairs is rarely a serious problem for people
with Parkinson’s (in the absence of orthopaedic or
other complications): the lines of the steps, like strips
applied to the floor, seem to act as cues to maintain
the flow of gait.
Cue cards
Brief written directions (as the example below) can
be used either as a prompt at the time of movement,
or memorised and recited during movement to
facilitate performance. Standard or individualised
text may be used, depending on requirements,
with well-sequenced keywords, appropriate for
prompting the required movements.
To fasten buttons
Sit down and say to yourself:
“Grip button …
find hole …
push button into hole …
and … pull.”
Example of a simple cue card
(cue cards can be laminated for
improved appearance and durability)
Auditory cues
The sound of the person with Parkinson’s own voice
can be used to initiate and maintain performance of a
motor task or movement sequence. This form of cue
is sometimes more effective than sub-vocal or silent
self-talk in the later stages of the disease. Here, we
seem to see voluntary, internally generated cues being
relayed back into the brain via auditory pathways – to
reach parts that other thoughts cannot reach. Auditory
cues may also be provided in a variety of other forms,
as below.
Verbal commands
used in conjunction with a metronome. A small
Concise instructions, spoken by the carer, therapist
inexpensive in-ear metronome is also now available.
etc, may be used to cue (prepare for), trigger (initiate)
In some studies, the beat-rate was set at 110–120
and maintain motor skills and sequences. Speaking in
beats per minute for women and 105–115 beats for
a conversational tone or too quietly is much less
men, corresponding to the usual cadence rate for
effective and should therefore be avoided. Results can
normal adults. To overcome start-hesitation, walking
be instantaneous in those who are responsive to this
was triggered by turning on the metronome and
form of auditory cue.
concentrating on stepping in time to the beat.
Experimentation with individuals will reveal whether
Once walking had been facilitated, the metronome
auditory cues are required only to initiate a movement
was turned off (if left on it may become a distraction,
sequence, or if it is necessary to continue repeating
which could impede progress). If considering purchase
the cues throughout the activity (especially in the case
of a metronome for use as described, remember to
of walking). Chanted commands such as ‘One … two
consider design and dexterity requirements when
… one … two…’, ‘Left … right…’ or ‘Long steps…’
making a choice. They can be purchased from
can be repeated to increase stride length and so
suppliers of musical instruments and accessories.
reduce shuffling of gait. Rising from sitting, once
Music and rhythm
poised and ready, is often difficult to initiate in
The beneficial effects of using music and rhythm to
Parkinson’s, yet a verbal command such as ‘One, two,
trigger and maintain flow of voluntary movements have
three … stand’ can act as a preparatory cue and then
been noted by some physiotherapists, who include
trigger standing up.
dancing (waltz style) to music at the end of group
Other verbal commands can be devised according to
individual needs. Always keep commands clear, brief
exercise classes for Parkinson’s patients. Use of this
and well sequenced. With a little training and practice,
carers may be able to progress from giving physical
assistance with transfers and walking to giving verbal
prompts only.
in the future. Conductive education also employs
Studies on the value of using metronomes have been
conducted for overcoming start-hesitation (or ignition
failure, as this has been called) and freezing (motor
blocks occurring during movement). Encouraging
responses to the sound of a metronome were noted
where the individual is sensitive to this form of
stimulus. Modern, compact, commercially available
metronomes can be clipped to a belt or waistband.
A small earpiece, linked by a fine flex, is sometimes
rhythmical facilitation and is used by some people with
Parkinson’s for management of difficult movements
and activities.
mode of auditory stimulus may become more popular
When teaching concepts and techniques such as those outlined above, aim to:
engage conscious attention/focus on the task in hand
increase understanding of the basis for functional difficulties
provide a small range of alternative techniques (which can be experimented with)
to address specific functional issues
where relevant, demonstrate movement strategies to provide a visual frame of reference
involve as many senses as possible in the learning process, with opportunities for
practice of these
provide feedback on performance in an honest and supportive manner as a form of
positive reinforcement. By facilitating any level of success, confidence and motivation
will be raised.
In general, where difficulties are encountered, it is beneficial to:
encourage the breakdown of complicated sequences into smaller parts
encourage application of attention through use of verbal and visual prompts
allow sufficient time, and use prompts when switching to a separate task or subject, as
it has been shown that Parkinson’s inhibits shifting of both mental and motor set
(switching from one idea or motor plan to another)
supply recall aids (cue cards, prompt sheets and short written reminders), where
possible, but avoid overloading with these
The use of cognitive and sensory attentional strategies
seems to utilise alternative pathways for reaching a
goal. To use an analogy, it is as if a messenger
travelling into the unconscious mind (with a message
for the body) finds the commonly used, direct pathway
blocked and so is unable to deliver the message to the
movement control centre. However, by using an
alternative route, or taking ‘a long way round’, the
message can get through after all. The exact
mechanisms being employed when using alternative
pathways is not yet fully understood. It is believed that
messages are rerouted, avoiding the basal ganglia
altogether, using short neural circuits within the higher
regions of the brain, such as pathways used to respond
to sensory input at a survival-response ‘reflex-type’
level. Clinical experience supports the findings of
the RESCUE project: that cognitive and sensory
attentional strategies can be extremely beneficial,
and are inexpensive and simple to use. They therefore
provide a valuable intervention resource for OTs in the
treatment of people with Parkinson’s and sometimes
also in other Parkinson’s syndromes.
Interventions for some common functional and
daily-living issues associated with having Parkinson’s
Poor medication compliance
Dossette-type medication boxes may be useful, but
check that dexterity is sufficient at medication times to
open and extract medications, including removal of a
clear plastic seal included by the pharmacy, if
medications are dispensed into systems of this style.
Alarm watches with multiple pre-set alarm functions, in
audible and vibrating styles, are available. A standard
travel alarm clock can also be useful to remind about
doses that are easy to miss, eg a dose not taken at a
meal time or due while out at a social event. Pill reminder
alarms may also be suitable, eg a vibrating pocket alarm
may suit people who are hard of hearing. It is also
discreet for use in public or work environments, such
as libraries, meetings and teaching sessions. Medication
will need to be carried in a suitable container.
One type of pill timer is a carousel. This is a
programmable automatic medication dispenser with a
dose-reminder alarm, which holds up to 28 doses,
dispensing up to four doses a day for a week. If more
than four doses daily are taken, it may suit to use another
type of dispenser for the most easy-to-remember doses,
such as mornings and bedtimes, with the four doses for
the central part of the day being kept in the carousel
dispenser. Some types of this device can be linked to
telecare systems used with community alarm systems. If
linked like this, the carousel will automatically generate a
pre-recorded phone call giving a prompt in a known voice
to go and take the dose, if a dose is not removed from
the dispensing chamber within a specified period of the
alarm having sounded. As this is a battery-operated
system, batteries will need replacement after several
months’ use and people should be aware that if a
carousel begins to behave erratically, it is probably a sign
of worn-out batteries. It may be worth keeping a small
supply of medications or a spare key at home, for use in
situations such as the carousel being filled and locked at
a local pharmacy.
Mood, motivation and initiative
Consider and address the impact of anxiety, which
may inhibit the ability to engage in activity and cause
distress, eg fear of falling, anxiety about eating and
drinking in public or gait and balance problems may all
raise anxiety levels in day-to-day life. Where possible,
teach movement strategies to manage difficulties that
aggravate anxiety. Also consider the benefit of small
aids. Improved function tends to alleviate anxiety and
promote re-engagement in public life.
Depression may occur with anxiety or on its own.
Mood swings may occur as part of an ‘on/off’ pattern.
Mood may improve as a result of satisfaction achieved
through mastery of one or more troublesome symptoms,
as well as by addressing functional issues that are
causing anxiety (as above). Motivation and the ability to
independently resolve practical difficulties is commonly
reduced. Provide support and encouragement for
people to identify and to reach achievable goals.
Optimising management of anti-Parkinson’s medication
will improve function and self-management in all areas
of daily life. Consider usual routine and who manages
this, including timings, especially times of doses that
are ‘easy to miss’ or are regularly taken late. Physical
processes and dexterity, opening of containers of
medication etc should also be considered. Access to
water and ability to drink at dose times, likewise.
A ‘nosey’-type cup can be used if neck rigidity inhibits
ease of drinking, especially for taking the first dose of
the day. A wide selection of medication management
and reminder systems – pill boxes with multiple
chambers to hold separate doses (some with built-in
alarm clocks that bleep, flash or vibrate) – can be
obtained via pharmacies or from specialist equipment
suppliers. If problems keeping to advised medication
times are identified, careful assessment of the person’s
management of their medication regimen is essential for
the selection of an appropriate aid. A local Parkinson’s
Disease Nurse Specialist (PDNS) or pharmacist may be
available to help if medication compliance is a problem.
Cognition and perception
Consider and address the impact of difficulties with life
management and organisational tasks or roles that may
need to be addressed. Explore the use of management
strategies, sources of social contact, support and the
need for advocacy, establishing support networks where
required. Ensure the patient is known to the local PDNS
or community matron, if available, and give the patient
information about activities at their local PDS branch.
People with Parkinson’s have reported that visual
hallucinations tend to be less intrusive if labelled by
themselves as such, when experiencing them.
Education about this side effect of anti-Parkinson’s
medication may help to increase insight and reduce
Delusions in the form of bizarre or obsessive ideas,
often in combination with hallucinations, can have
a major impact on the ability to cope with daily life.
If distressing delusional ideas are reported, discuss
the need for a medication review and adjustment with
the PDNS, or GP if possible.
Visio-spatial problems
Some people with Parkinson’s-type conditions report
visual problems, including the following:
Reaching for an object or placing an item on a surface
Judging the speed or path of moving objects – as
advised to speak to their GP about whether they
when moving among people in busy places, using
escalators, driving or crossing roads.
Difficulties with figure/ground discrimination – such
as when picking up an object that it is positioned
on a background of the same colour as the object.
should continue to drive if they have any problems
Self-management strategies
with judging distances etc.
It can be helpful to explain to people who report the
kind of visual problems outlined above that, by making
extra use of their mind and sense of touch (as below),
the brain will be able to use the extra information to
locate items being dealt with more accurately.
due to difficulty judging distances. Often things appear
distance. Double vision often reduces during good
‘on’ time when levodopa medication is being used.
closer than they actually are. As a result, it is not
uncommon for items to be misplaced and fall off the
edge of a worktop or table. People should be
Walking down steps, kerbs, stairs and using escalators,
again, due to difficulties with judging distances.
Eyes tiring quickly if kept focusing at a set distance –
perhaps with ‘blank patches’ temporarily appearing
over text, or part of an object being looked at for a
When reading, finding that the same line is read again
As well as having regular eye tests and using glasses
and other treatments, as advised by an optician or
ophthalmologist, the following suggestions can make
management of vision-aided tasks easier:
and again, or poor visual attention – where the eyes
When reaching for items, expect them to be further
sustained period of time ‘going blank’, such as part
of a plate of food ‘vanishing’ during a meal.
seem to be distracted by other areas of the page,
especially when reading pages with a variety of text
styles and pictures, eg newspapers or magazines.
Increased sensitivity to contrasting colours and bold
patterns. This may cause difficulty walking through
an area with a lot of strong colours or bold patterns
on the floor, increasing any tendency to shuffle,
freeze and/or feel the need to step over 2D shapes,
as if they were 3D objects.
Double vision – sometimes only affecting moving
objects, lines of a certain angle, when looking
through net curtains or at objects at a certain
away than they appear to be, eg while standing up,
move an extra step closer to the item before reaching
for it. Also, make sure to stand in front of the area
being reached to, rather than off to one side.
When placing an item on a surface, reach out with
the free hand and touch the surface first to check the
distance, eg touch the front of a table or worktop
before placing a cup on it with the other hand.
When pouring cold liquids into a cup or glass, use
the free hand to hold the empty vessel while it rests
on the worktop or table, as this will help the brain to
aim more accurately when pouring.
When pouring hot liquids, do not hold the cup but,
if possible, place it in the sink or on the draining
board, so that any spills will flow safely down the drain.
When going down steps or a kerb, a walking stick
or walking pole with a non-slip tip can be useful as a
‘depth gauge’ if placed on the next level before
moving the leading foot down. Where handrails or
banisters are available, they can be used as a guide
when descending steps or stairs.
If reading is difficult, use plain-coloured card to mask
off the area below the line being read, and move the
card down to reveal the next line when ready. It is
easiest to do this sitting at a table with the book,
magazine or paper laid out on the table and with
good lighting from above or from over one shoulder.
Rest the eyes regularly by looking away from a plate
of food or a page, eg to an area across the room, for
a short while after each paragraph or two. A tinted
plastic sheet – most commonly tinted blue or green –
placed over a page of text, may help to reduce glare
and contrast, enabling reading with less effort.
Where possible, reduce the number of contrasting
colours on the floor and encourage removal of
clutter in areas used regularly at home. This is
especially helpful where shuffling or freezing regularly
occur in the same area.
Hand function
Manual dexterity and co-ordination are often
impaired, while the degree of ability may also fluctuate,
adding uncertainty and frustration for people with
Parkinson’s and those around them.
tends to be dropped between the plate and mouth
Weighted cutlery may sometimes help to dampen an
action tremor, but may exacerbate fatigue and thus
cancel out the benefit
If starting the swallow is a problem, using a cue
card, as shown here, may be beneficial if read
silently when ready to swallow
Referral to a speech and language therapist should be
considered where difficulties are reported with
swallowing, and coughing when taking tablets, food or
drinks. Good sitting posture, adequate lighting and as
few distractions as possible are recommended if
mealtime problems occur. Some of the following small
aids may also be useful in reducing difficulties with
eating and drinking, where relevant:
DycemTM square or rectangle used as a plate mat
Raised-edge/lip-edge plate, or a suitably-sized
shallow straight-edged flan dish
One-way valve straw may be useful if too much
Kitchen tasks may entail problems relating to poor
dexterity, impaired balance and rapidly becoming
fatigued. Some of the following ideas may help to
improve ease and safety of working in the kitchen.
If relevant, consider use of small aids etc, as below:
Latex® netting – a small square or two makes
effort is needed to use a standard straw
easy-to-use jar openers by aiding grip (like using
a tea towel). This generally works more easily than
Flexible/elbow straws may suit if weakness or
(severe) tremor inhibits holding a cup safely
‘Nosey’ cups/cut-away mugs (left, right or
two-handed) may be very useful if limited neck
mobility prevents easily draining a cup, or frequent
coughing occurs when drinking
Dyna fork (fork/knife combo) helps if co-ordination
between knife and fork is impaired
less familiar styles of opening device.
Consider the need for a perching stool to support
balance as hand function in people with Parkinson’s
tends to improve when sitting.
Wire mesh or chip baskets can help if lifting and
straining pans of vegetables is a problem.
Consider the need for a high-level trolley, or other
ways to reduce walking and carrying simultaneously.
Eating and drinking are often slower and messier and
may demand greater effort, which can lead to loss of
pleasure in food and withdrawal from previously enjoyed
family and social activities involving food or drink.
Spork/splade (spoon/fork combo) helps if food
A ring-puller gadget will be of benefit if difficulty with
opening modern ring-pull cans of food is reported
(available from most kitchen equipment suppliers).
Lever taps or tap turners may be needed to
facilitate independence.
Pacing the preparation of meals, eg by doing some
preparation earlier in the day, so that there is less
to do when actually cooking the meal, will help
with fatigue.
Use of labour-saving devices and convenience foods
where appropriate.
Dressing is generally slower, more tiring and may
cause poor balance if done in a standing position.
People with Parkinson’s often report that putting on a
set of clothes can take from 30 minutes to two hours
or more daily. The fastening of a regular man’s shirt
alone is, not uncommonly, reported to take up to 30
minutes. In some cases, provision of assistance may
be the most appropriate course of action, especially if
the process of dressing takes a very long time, or
leaves the person so exhausted that it takes a
significant part of the day to recover.
For those who wish to dress themselves more easily,
use of the strategies below will usually be much more
effective for people with Parkinson’s than the use of
unfamiliar dressing aids.
Chip and PIN cards cause difficulties where tremor,
delayed movement times, double vision or impaired
memory affect the ability to use a number-pad.
If requested, banks can issue ‘chip and sign’ cards
to customers who cannot use PIN-based systems.
These cards prompt the retailer to ask for a signature
for verification, instead of requesting the entering of a
PIN code.
Handwriting typically diminishes in size (micrographic). In
addition, script often slopes towards the far corners
instead of going straight across the page. A more
‘spidery’ or ‘scrawled’ style of script may also be evident.
Oliveira et al (1997) studied micrographia in people
with Parkinson’s disease, focusing on the effects of
providing external cues. The team, based in Oxford,
were able to demonstrate the benefits of using visual
or auditory cues, which, they suggested, encouraged
people with Parkinson’s to write less automatically;
thus improving the size and clarity of their handwriting.
Tips for bigger writing*
In a one-off session, after an initial sample of writing
has been produced, try out the following advice:
If possible, sit comfortably and in an upright position
at a table, with good lighting from over one shoulder
or from above.
Try using a fibre tip pen, or a modern gel ink pen, as
these ‘flow’ most smoothly.
Dressing strategies
Collect all the clothes you plan to wear and lay them in the correct order for dressing.
Sit down on a chair or the bed, close to your stack of clothes.
Concentrate on dressing, avoiding distracting thoughts, sounds or conversations.
Before putting on each item, imagine yourself doing it.
Describe each body movement while you are dressing, eg ‘Put right hand into this sleeve and pull
up’ or ‘Grip button … find hole … push button into hole … and pull’.
Stand to pull up pants/trousers, making sure your body is well balanced.
Sit down to do up all buttons and fastenings.
Do only one task at a time.
Concentrate fully on the task.
Describe each movement to yourself as you do it.
Adapted from Morris, Kirkwood, Iansek (1996)
*Based on common sense advice, clinical experience, and the findings of Oliveira’s team.
A pen grip (a short triangular or cylindrical tube that
Aim up to the line above, on each upward pen stroke.
slides over the lower end of a pen or pencil barrel)
may provide a more comfortable and relaxed, less
tight, hold on the pen.
Follow the line to guide writing straight.
Stop to stretch from time to time: press palms together,
open arms out wide and then return to your writing.
Do this regularly during long pieces of writing.
Use lined paper or a heavy lined sheet below a plain
page (as often found in a pad of writing paper).
And finally, don’t forget to keep thinking ‘BIG’.
Concentrate and avoid rushing when writing.
If writing style remains rapid, these strategies will be less
effective. It may then help to think ‘Big and slow’ to focus
attention on writing less automatically. For scrawly or spidery
writing that does not really shrink, thinking the words
‘Smooth’ or ‘Slow and smooth’ may be more helpful.
Avoid distractions such as TV, radio, background
music etc.
Think ‘BIG’ often while writing.
Pay close attention to forming each letter.
Mobility and gait disturbances
Next, gently shift the majority of weight sideways to
discover which method(s) works best for each person.
one leg/foot. This will break the pattern of incorrectly
co-ordinated and over-active leg muscles, which is
associated with freezing during walking.
Once weight has been transferred gently to one
foot, it will generally be easy to then take a step
forward with the other leg to restart walking.
A verbal cue may help, said silently, aloud or by a
companion, such as: ‘Shift weight to left leg and
step with right foot.’ (Reverse left and right if this
suits the situation.)
Once the use of a suitable cueing strategy has been
established, an individual will be able to restart walking or
maybe avoid freezing by using their preferred method(s).
Cues work in real time and are a compensatory
mechanism that use higher brain circuits, accessed
without major disturbance, despite dopamine deficiency.
Over a period of time (several years in many cases),
a chosen method may become less effective. If this
happens, another phase of experimentation will be
needed and usually involves switching to a different
category of stimulus or ‘cue’. People with Parkinson’s
sometimes experience ‘freezing’ when doing activities
other than walking or when starting a movement,
eg when beginning to speak, when raising a cup to
drink, or starting to get out of bed. Difficulty getting
started, sometimes called start-hesitation, can often
be overcome using a similar approach to coping with
episodes of freezing.
All the strategies described below involve providing
a stimulus or ‘cue’ to trigger the start or restart of
The weight shift method
(proprioceptive cue)
Upon freezing, instead of trying to move forward
again, first STOP. It is not uncommon for the upper
body to still be mobile when the legs are ‘frozen’.
This can trigger a fall as a result of being unable
to engage saving reactions, such as taking a step
forward as the centre of gravity reaches the edge
of the base of support.
Consider triggers of freezing if it occurs repeatedly in
the same locations at home or in other regularly used
environments. Thresholds at doorways, contrasting
coloured rugs, mats, corners, narrow spaces, eg
between furniture, free-standing toilet aids, poorly
stabilised wheeled commodes, etc may cause regular
freezing in the bathroom. If so, remove the rug or mat,
or reposition it well away from the usual route taken
through the room or area. Use fixed rails and securely
anchored aids and equipment where required. Items
which wobble during use tend to raise anxiety and
elicit increased tendency to freeze with subsequent use.
Auditory methods for unfreezing and
management of other gait problems
Upon freezing, STOP.
Decide which foot to move first.
Then listen to yourself or someone else saying:
‘One, two, three, step…’, or a similar phrase.
Restart walking by moving the chosen foot first, on
hearing the trigger word (eg ‘step’ or ‘go’), spoken
silently or aloud by the person him/herself or said by
someone else.
An initial period of experimentation will be needed to
Whichever method is used, a clear commanding
tone of voice will be the most effective to get
movement restarted.
Other strategies to manage freezing involve using
rhythm (either in the mind or aloud), by singing or
humming a tune as walking, or by counting steps or
chanting ‘one, two, one, two, one, two…’ or ‘left,
right, left, right...’ and moving with the beat.
It may also help to use rhythm when approaching an
area that tends to cause freezing regularly, letting the
person pass the ‘trouble spot’ without freezing.
Using rhythm when walking may increase stride
length, if there is a tendency to shuffle. Chanting ‘BIG
STEPS’ or ‘LONG STEPS’ silently or aloud can also
help to increase stride-length for some people.
Festination of gait describes the tendency for shuffling
steps to get faster and faster, with stopping being
difficult or ‘impossible’. Festination is a particular problem
for some people with Parkinson’s when using slopes,
ramps and walking downhill. Use of self-generated or
externally produced rhythmical sound such as
chanting ‘one, two, one, two’, singing a song with a
suitably regular beat, or using music or a metronome,
may be of benefit in regulating stride and thus inhibit
festination (‘falling into step’ with an external rhythm or
beat is a phenomenon common to all group-dwelling
Visual cues for starting and unfreezing
Someone else can assist by placing one of their
feet at a right angle in front of the closest foot of
someone who has frozen.
direction of walking
other’s foot
Stepping over such an obstacle (with a verbal
prompt such as ‘step over my foot’ if needed)
may trigger the restart of walking.
If freezing in the same place occurs regularly, floor strips
may solve these ‘motor blocks’ in that area. Floor strips
are of particular use in doorways, corners of corridors or in
a narrow area, such as between furniture. Contrasting
coloured sticky tape can be used, eg masking tape. (NB:
Strips will need to be renewed with fresh tape from time to
time as they tend to get scuffed by vacuum cleaning, etc.)
Outdoor and community mobility
Freezing in busy places, eg supermarkets, libraries
and town centres, may discourage people with
Parkinson’s from participating in previously enjoyed
pursuits. To promote continued participation in public
life, a disabled person’s parking permit should be
considered, to allow best use of limited stamina,
‘on’ time and to allow car doors to be opened as
wide as possible to aid getting in and out.
Where difficulties with moving in busy or unfamiliar
environments are reported:
build confidence in the use of personalised
management strategies for freezing
encourage realistic pacing of activity
teach the ‘map reading’ approach (see below)
for walking in busy or unfamiliar places
A wheelchair for use outdoors may suit some people
who are very unsteady, or who tire very quickly when
walking, to enable continued participation in society.
Use of Shop Mobility and other wheelchair loan schemes
at many public recreation facilities and in some large
shops, as well as pre-arranged assisted-transit facilities
at airports, should all be considered for ease of
mobility, when appropriate.
Map reading approach – for ease of walking
in complex environments
Allow time to pause, look and plan the immediate
route ahead at regular intervals. To do this:
1 Pause – step to one side, eg just inside a doorway
or out of the main flow of other people (so as not to
cause an obstruction). Touch something solid, like a
wall or lamppost, to aid balance.
freezing feet
2 Look at the area ahead, check for obstacles, eg
boxes, lampposts, children, trolleys, uneven ground,
turns in a pathway, etc.
3 Plan – plot the exact route to be taken as far as can
be seen.
4 Walk – set off to walk to that point.
Repeat this ‘Pause, Look, Plan and Walk’ strategy as
often as needed, as each new area comes into view.
In addition, when walking along a busy street, walk
along near the shop-fronts, well out of the way of
lampposts and other street furniture. When facing
oncoming people in this manner, there is minimal
decision-making about which side to pass each other
on, and so also less gait difficulty.
Strategies for difficulties in starting an
1 First, imagine moving to the front of the seat.
2 Next, imagine placing feet close to the chair
and slightly apart.
3 Hands ready to push down on the armrests…
4 And then, imagine the feeling of pushing down
through legs and arms, and rising up easily,
into a standing position.
5 After having briefly run through the actions in
the mind, prepare for real action with a ‘one,
two, three … stand’, or other phrase to suit,
followed by the actions just imagined.
If starting an action is a problem, mentally rehearsing
doing the action without difficulty and involving as
many senses as possible during the imagined practice
will aid subsequent performance of the action.
Recalling a memory of doing an action with ease,
such as remembering drinking in a former situation,
will prime neural circuits which are the same as those
used for actual performance of that specific task.
Imagining or remembering doing the action(s) in detail,
as in the example below, and without any difficulty is
essential for this method to be effective. If failure is
anticipated, it will be reinforced neurally.
To get up from an armchair, when
‘feeling stuck’
Methods for reducing the risk of falls
By employing some of the strategies below, it is
usually possible to reduce the frequency of falls
and near-falls.
the individual to aid balance when working in a
Fixed rails (including extra stair rails, newel rails and
rising from lying or sitting (signs of possible postural
grab rails by steps and other awkward locations) and
hypotension), a doctor may be able to help manage this.
toilet frames, if needed, should be floor-fixed as a
In addition to using any medication prescribed, it is
tendency for these to ‘wobble’ exacerbates gait
recommended that the steps listed below are followed
problems such as freezing and poor balance. It can
if any feelings of light-headedness remain.
sometimes help to fix a grab rail horizontally on the wall
opposite the top of the stairs as a target to aim towards
if freezing on the top step of the stairs is reported.
standing position.
If dizziness or light-headedness is experienced on
After lying or sitting for a while, always rise slowly
and in stages.
Before getting up, march legs a few times on the
For tasks usually done in a standing position, such as
spot and flex ankles up and down a few times to
washing at a basin or working in the kitchen or
exercise calf muscles and thus pump extra blood
greenhouse, a perching stool (adapted by adding a
through the system.
latex netting cover, if a non-slip surface is required)
may be useful, especially if one hand is being used by
Rise carefully and pause to concentrate on feeling well
balanced and clear in the head before walking off.
Some general strategies for improving gait and balance
Strategies such as the methods below can be taught
to enable people with Parkinson’s to enhance their
general stability during walking.
Make it a habit to concentrate on walking and avoid
non-essential talking while moving along. If possible,
pause to speak and touch something solid, eg a
wall or lamppost, to aid balance while talking.
When turning a corner, turning away from a cupboard
or turning to sit down etc, always turn feet first.
Remember when turning...
Encourage review of the floors around the home and
frequently used environments:
Reducing the number of contrasting colours and
textures from rugs and mats in frequently used
areas will improve the flow of walking.
Ensure floors are clear of clutter and trailing flexes.
Consider re-arranging furniture to reduce narrow
spaces, such as when coffee tables are kept in the
centre of a living room, to ease the flow of walking
in that area (consider the need for help to move
furniture, as this poses a risk to balance).
If choosing new carpet or flooring, select plain,
short-pile styles if possible.
Carrying even small, light, items when walking can
distract from fully focusing on balance. So, where
possible, promote the use of alternatives. Instead of
carrying items in the hands, consider the use of:
A cue card, to prompt turning steadily. A similar
pockets in clothing or in an apron
cue card can be made up and supplied to be
placed where it will be easily seen in a room
such as the kitchen or bathroom.
a lightweight shoulder bag (ideally with a strap long
If a tendency to ‘miss the turn’ when changing
direction, eg from a corridor into a room, is
troublesome, breaking up the route and stopping
at points where turns are needed before turning
(feet first) and walking on may help.
In a wide, spacious area, walking in an arc to change
direction is safer than an abrupt or pivoting turn.
When looking or reaching up, prepare stance with
feet shoulder width apart and one foot a pace in
front of the other beforehand.
If a walking aid such as a stick or a wheeled
walking-frame is found to be useful, encourage use
to improve balance. Liaise with physiotherapist
about suitable walking aids if possible.
Use of lighting on night visits to the toilet is strongly
recommended. An automatic night-light or two, or a
touch light by the bed can be helpful.
Good lighting on stairs is also recommended.
Extra banister rails, spiral (newell) rails for corners on
stairs and grab rails by steps or by the toilet can be
very helpful. The need for fixing these in frequentlyused environments should be considered.
enough to be worn diagonally across the chest, so it
won’t slip off the shoulder)
a body-belt bag, worn around the waist – for
carrying small items such as pens, keys, mobile
phone and glasses. One with a wide opening and a
large tag on the zip will be easiest to use
a small backpack (if possible, the user should sit or ask
for help to put it on and off. Also for shoulder bags)
trolleys – high platform-style trolleys are often useful but
are not always suitable as they may increase a
tendency to ‘break into a run’ (festination of gait).
If considering the use of a trolley, assess gait in small
spaces and observe posture. The trolley should not
be held too far ahead of the body and should be set
at a height to avoid stooping. Shops, railways and
airports often provide trolleys for customer use
a net bag on walking frames
or encourage asking someone else to carry items,
eg on stairs.
Dyskinesia – If a medication review is unable to ‘damp
down’ dyskinetic episodes, it may help to advise about
ways to pace routines and plan for coping with episodes,
considering positions, eg sitting or lying, and activities, like
dancing or walking, that help or exacerbate uncontrolled
movements. Walking at a slightly increased speed and in
time to a regular beat when dyskinetic may improve gait
and reduce the likelihood of falling.
If a tendency to fall is reported, regular calcium
supplements may be recommended to maintain the
strength of bones and reduce the risk of fractures
associated with falling. A blood test may need to be
arranged by a supervising doctor prior to considering
calcium supplements.
If falls sometimes occur, it is advisable to carry a
means of calling for assistance. A whistle, telephone
community-alarm button (or similar ‘fall alert’ pager),
the button part of a cordless doorbell (short range,
battery-operated) or a mobile phone may suit the
situation. Encourage the use of an appropriate alerting
device, including when visiting the toilet at night.
The Alexander technique may be helpful for
improving day-to-day movement. There is evidence
that lessons in the Alexander technique are likely to
lead to sustained benefit for people with Parkinson’s
(Stallibrass et al 2002).
In a randomised, controlled trial, three groups of
people – one receiving lessons in the Alexander
technique, another receiving massage, and the
third having no additional treatment – all diagnosed
with idiopathic Parkinson’s disease, were examined.
Measures were taken pre- and post-intervention, and
at follow-up six months later. People who participated
in a course of 24 lessons in the Alexander technique
showed improvements compared with the group that
Some methods for addressing poor posture
didn’t receive additional treatment. Improvements were
Encourage improved awareness of poor posture
shown in self-assessment ratings using the Parkinson’s
and strategies to improve it.
Consciously straighten up regularly, starting from the
hips if sitting or the knees if standing.
Check and correct posture regularly, or ask a companion
to prompt to ‘straighten up’ from time to time.
Practise standing with the back against a suitable
blank piece of wall. Try to stand as straight as
possible with the heels as near to the wall as is
comfortable. Make contact between the back of the
head and the wall when able. Hold this position for a
Disease Disability Scale at the best and worst times
of the day. Secondary measures included the Beck
Depression Inventory and an Attitudes to Self-Scale.
The comparative improvement for the Alexander
technique group was maintained at six-month
For more details, see the PDS booklet Complementary
Therapies and Parkinson’s disease.
Sit-to-stand transfers from chairs, toilet and bedside
commonly present difficulties for people with
Parkinson’s. It is not, therefore, uncommon for physical
assistance to be required by people with Parkinson’s
when rising from a seated position. Generally,
appropriate elements of the movements to rise from
sitting are performed but are done so in the wrong
order, possibly leading to a series of failed attempts
before managing to fully get up. Use of suitably
worded verbal cues may be of benefit. A carer may
be able to give verbal cues instead of physical
assistance using this type of approach. Alternatively,
or in addition, a cue card can be used to visually
prompt application of a movement strategy if one is
placed within view of regularly used seating.
Posture is commonly stooped in people with
Parkinson’s. Some people also tend to lean to one
side, especially at ‘off’ times of the medication cycle.
As a result, complaints of neck and back pain are
common in those with a poor or stooping posture.
Reduced awareness of the position of the body in
space may in part account for falls in people who
have Parkinson’s.
brief time, once or twice daily. Gradually build up to
holding this position for one minute or so each time.
Lie as flat as is comfortable on the back (supine), for
10–20 minutes during the day to maintain length of
ligaments and avoid development of contracture.
Use as few pillows as possible at night.
Ensure suitable seating is available.
Consider using a car safety-restraining strap, if a
passenger tends to lean towards the driver when
travelling by car.
Method for getting up from an armchair
Move bottom to front of seat.
Place feet close to chair and slightly apart.
Put hands ready to push down on armrests.
And ... push down through legs and arms.
One, two, three and UP.
Example of a cue card to aid rising
from sitting
Car transfers NB: All drivers who have been diagnosed
with Parkinson’s should be advised to notify the Driver and
Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) and their car insurance
company of their condition. Each individual’s fitness to
drive will be assessed by the DVLA and if permission to
continue driving is granted, this will be reviewed at a
specified interval (generally every one to three years).
Allow space for the car door to be as fully opened as
possible (a disabled parking permit will usually enable
access to suitably sized parking space). Consider the
use of foam seat wedge if the seat slopes backward,
adding to difficulty rising or causing discomfort. A flexible
fabric turning-disc with a non-slip base placed on the
seat before travel may be of use when turning to get
legs in and out of a car. A portable handgrip that slots
into a suitable door-latch striker plate (fitting most cars)
on the side away from the door hinge can be helpful. It
works on both driver and passenger sides and allows
holding onto something with both hands (with the
inner door handle or sill of a fully lowered window
being employed on the other side) when entering and
exiting a car. The handgrip is portable and can be
easily taken on journeys in various cars, eg taxis.
Toilet transfers As already stated, free-standing toilet
aids are rarely suitable for people with Parkinson’s.
As Parkinson’s is a long-term, degenerative condition,
installation of fixed grab rails to aid toileting should be
considered where difficulties are identified. Use of
additional height, as provided by various forms of
raised toilet seat, should be avoided whenever
possible, as this will tend to exacerbate any tendency
towards constipation, which is common in people
with Parkinson’s. Consider the need for clothing
adaptations to aid going to the toilet, eg fitting a small
split ring (as used on a key ring) to trouser zip fobs
makes using the zip easier.
Bath transfers Where difficulties are reported,
consider the need for supervision during transfers
in and out of the bath. A non-slip mat should be
recommended. Well-placed grab rails may help with
stability when stepping in and getting out. A wide
shower board, or possibly a swivelling bath-top seat
may suit people who use an over-bath shower fitting.
A powered bath aid may suit those having major
difficulty when needing to bathe, eg due to
Showering A level-floor shower (wet room) with seating
and handrails would suit many people with mobility
problems associated with Parkinson’s. A half-height,
fixed or free-standing screen can be used to prevent
the feet of an assistant getting wet when helping, if
using level-floor shower facilities. In shower cubicles, if
solid walls are accessible, fixing a wall-mounted folding
seat and handrails to suit, or using a corner seat and
grab rails will often be beneficial.
Well-proportioned seating is especially necessary for
management strategy to aid rising from an armchair
people with movement disorders and acquisition of
already outlined.
a suitably sized armchair should be considered, or
made to measure if such a seat is not available.
Chair raisers may suit some situations so the need
for this should be assessed when possible. Powered
riser-recliner-type chairs suit some people with
Parkinson’s. Users of powered seating tend to rise
unaided when feeling able and use the powered lifting
mode only when necessary. Consider using the
Dyskinesia occurring when sitting in an armchair,
eg when relaxing in the evening, may cause sliding
forwards on the seat and possibly falling out of the
seat altogether. In this case, a deep pressure-relief
foam cushion with a ramped (thicker) front edge may
help if used on the chair (in place of the seat squab if
suitable). A piece of Latex-covered string netting or
other non-slip material may be required to anchor the
ramped cushion to the surface below. A one-way
glide fabric band or Latex netting on top of the seat
cushion may help if dyskinesia is only mild to
moderate in intensity.
while seated. The top of the back of the chair and the
nearest edge of the table on the other-hand-side can
then be used to aid rising. But do not use the edge of
a table with a central leg/pillar, as it will tip up.
When rising from a dining-type chair without arms,
start by turning 90° towards the direction to be taken
For management of bed mobility problems, see the
‘Night-time issues’ section below.
Early morning and self-care routines
Functional abilities will be improved once the first dose
of anti-Parkinson’s medication has been absorbed.
It therefore helps to wash and dress after taking the
first dose of the day. Establishing usual times of
waking, getting up and taking the first dose of
anti-Parkinson’s medication will help to ensure that
where non-optimal use of medication is identified, this
can be reviewed with the supervising PDNS or GP.
People with Parkinson’s often find that they tire quickly
following relatively short periods of (limited) physical
exertion. The following methods may help fatigue
Prioritisation of how to best use limited reserves
of energy.
and energy.
Pacing of activity, by balancing periods of activity
and rest through the course of the day, and over the
course of the week, will allow regular recuperation
times and minimise episodes of intense exhaustion
resulting from delaying resting for too long.
Poor saliva control
Excess saliva building up in the mouth troubles
some people with Parkinson’s, often causing social
embarrassment. This situation is due to a reduction in
frequency of automatically swallowing saliva as it is
produced, rather than because of an excess in saliva
production. Improving posture will improve the ability
to control saliva to some extent. Developing the habit
of swallowing a couple of times when saliva is felt to
be building up will better control this problem than
using a handkerchief to absorb secretions, which also
contributes to the development of dehydration, unless
extra fluid is taken to replace what is lost.
Night-time issues
Bed mobility is often impaired in people with
Parkinson’s and may be experienced for some time
before the diagnosis of Parkinson’s itself. Frequency of
urination at night (nocturia) or possible reversal of
bladder rhythm, causing frequent need for bladder
emptying during the night, are commonly experienced
by people with Parkinson’s. For those living alone,
severe bed mobility difficulties may trigger admission
to a care home, while for those with a frequent need
for assistance at night, this may cause ‘intolerable’
stress on their carer.
People with Parkinson’s tend to ‘travel across the mattress’
when turning in bed and so may need more space than
usual. A powered, profiling bed or mattress elevator is
sometimes purchased or provided for people with
Parkinson’s. However, as bed mobility difficulties tend to
arise from rigidity of the trunk and subsequent difficulties
with rolling, problems often persist despite the help of
automatically raising the head end of the mattress.
It may be possible to reduce or eliminate nocturnal
episodes of confusion and hallucinations by keeping a
Use of labour-saving and energy conservation
Delegation of some tasks to optimise use of time
light on at night, having a radio playing softly or
keeping the windows open for night sounds to enter
the bedroom, thus reducing the effects of lack of
sensory stimulation during the night.
Strategies to promote night-time mobility
and independence
The following strategies may help to promote
increased independence in people with Parkinson’s
during the night. Introduction of one or two of these
methods will generally be sufficient to improve function
at a particular time. Additional strategies can then
be introduced as needed as, over time, the
condition progresses.*
Teach bridging (when lying on the back, bend knees
up and raise hips off the mattress) then moving a
small distance sideways, before lowering hips again.
Alternating movements of the three main sections of
the body to move across the mattress, shifting one
section of the body at a time (head and shoulders
being one section, hips another section and feet being
the final section) will enable easier repositioning away
from the edge of the bed or to straighten up if lying at
an angle across the mattress.
Encourage getting into bed by sitting on the
bedside, shuffling the bottom well back and lifting
legs onto the bed before lying down (getting into
bed knees first tends to become increasingly
Consider using a bed-side grab rail to aid turning
and rising. These are available in various styles to
suit a variety of beds and situations, eg bed-stick,
bed-lever, rise-easy bed aid and mattress elevator
with integral grab rail. If used, it is important that the
rail is fitted correctly at the shoulder level of the bed
occupant to provide a comfortable grip.
Teach movement methods for turning over, adjusting
position in bed and getting out of bed. If a bed aid is
used, ensure the person has been shown how to
use it comfortably.
An ergonomic movement sequence, as used by
people who have lower back pain, usually suits
people with Parkinson’s who find turning and getting
out of bed difficult (see example cue card below).
awkward as Parkinson’s progresses).
Consider the need for facilities (commode, urinal) to
pass urine nearer the bed during the night, if the
journey to the toilet is via stairs or too far for
convenience or safety, in the case of poor balance.
Encourage the use of lighting when getting up to go
to the toilet at night, eg a touch-light or automatic
night light(s).
Consider the use of satin night wear or a satin,
half-length sheet as shown opposite (but not both
together as this would be too slippery).
Using a satin half sheet
Many people with movement difficulties find that using
a satin sheet positioned across the top two-thirds of
their bed makes it much easier to move, as the satin
reduces friction and adds ease to their movements.
Bed mobility plan
Bend knees
Turn head
Reach over
… And roll …
And next … to get up out of bed …
It is important not to have the satin covering the
bottom third of the bed, as this allows the feet to
grip on the standard sheet below when moving.
Sometimes full-length satin sheets are used to aid
moving in bed but these tend to be less beneficial as
the feet tend to slide about, so leg muscles cannot
give the power required to aid movement.
Ordinary satin from a dressmaking fabric supplier is
all that is needed, costing approximately £5 a metre.
Drop legs over edge
And push … To sit up
Buy enough to lay over the top and sides of the
mattress, plus an extra 46cm (18in) minimum for
each side to tuck well under the mattress.
Alternatively, stitch a patch of satin onto one side of a
Example of a cue card for prompting
turning over and getting out of bed,
starting from lying on the back
sheet (within the dotted area shown on the diagram
opposite). By leaving approx 23cm (9in) of standard
sheet along the outside edge(s) of the mattress, the
*See advice about ‘Teaching methods for promoting learning and use of adaptive movement strategies’ on
page 71 for more details.
possibility of a short person slipping off the bedside
NB Hazard warning!
when getting in or out is reduced.
Hem cut edges if possible, to avoid ends fraying.
Usually satin is machine washable at 40°C. It is
quick-drying and, if desired, it can be ironed on a
cool temperature setting.
Consider whether the use of satin would cause the
person to slide off the bed, as could occur, with a
short person using a high bed. If so, avoid using
satin, or use the satin patch method described.
standard lower sheet
(beneath satin sheet)
satin sheet
Diagram showing how to position a satin sheet on a single bed
Relevant resources from the PDS
Information sheets
Competencies: An integrated career and competency
framework for nurses working in Parkinson’s disease
management (code B115)
Complementary Therapies and Parkinson’s Disease
(code B102)
Keeping Moving: An exercise programme for people
with Parkinson’s disease (code V011 – and booklet or
code B074 – booklet only (free of charge))
Looking After Your Bladder and Bowels in
Parkinsonism (code B060)
Intimate Relationships (code B034)
The Drug Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease
(code B013)
Falls and Parkinson’s (code FS39)
Foot Care and Parkinson’s (code FS51)
Handwriting and Parkinson’s (code FS23)
International Travel and Parkinson’s (code FS28)
Low Blood Pressure and Parkinson’s (code FS50)
Occupational Therapy and Parkinson’s (FS97)
Pain in Parkinson’s (code FS37)
Physiotherapy and Parkinson’s (code FS42)
Pill Timers (code FS53)
Speech and Language Therapy (code FS07)
References and further reading
Assessment of Motor & Process Skills (AMPS) –
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Bagley S et al (1996) ‘The effect of visual cues on the gait of independently mobile Parkinson’s disease patients’
Physiotherapy; 77:415–420
Burleigh-Jacobs A et al (1997) ‘Step initiation in Parkinson’s disease: influence of levodopa and external sensory
triggers’ Movement Disorders; 12(2):206–215
Buytenhuijs EL et al (1994) ‘Memory and learning strategies in patients with Parkinson’s disease’
Neuropsychologia; 32(3):335–342
CANTAB Pattern Recognition Memory Test –
Competence Framework for Long-term (Neurological) Conditions –
Cools AR et al (1984) ‘Cognitive and motor shifting aptitude disorder in Parkinson’s disease’ Journal of
Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry; 47:443–453
Deane KHO et al (2001) ‘Occupational therapy for Parkinson’s disease’ The Cochrane Database of Systematic
Reviews, Issue 2
DiClemente C (1991) ‘Motivational interviewing and stages of change’ in: Motivational Interviewing, WR Miller & S
Rollnick, Guildford Press, New York
Fahn S et al (eds) (1987), Tower of London Test – available in various versions and styles, from suppliers of
psychological testing kits, Macmillan Health Care Information, Florham Park, New Jersey
Fiorani C et al (1997) ‘Occupational therapy increases ADL score and quality of life in Parkinson’s disease’
Movement Disorders; 12(1):135
Foltynie L et al (2004) ‘The cognitive ability of an incident cohort of Parkinson’s patients in the UK. The
CamPaIGN study’ Brain; 127(3):550–60
Freeman JS et al (1996) ‘The influence of external timing cues upon the rhythm of voluntary movements in
Parkinson’s disease’ Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry; 56:1078–1084
Gaudet P (2002) Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM) in: ‘Measuring the impact of Parkinson’s
disease: an occupational therapy perspective’ Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy 69(2):104–113
Gauthier L et al (1987) ‘The benefits of group occupational therapy for patients with Parkinson’s disease’ The
American Journal of Occupational Therapy; 41(6):360–365
Gillingham FJ & Donaldson MC (eds) (1969) ‘Schwab and England Activities of Daily Living’ in: Third Symp. of
Parkinson’s Disease (pp152–157), E&S Livingstone, Edinburgh, Scotland
Hoehn MM & Yahr MD (1967) Hoehn & Yahr staging of Parkinson’s disease scale in: ‘Parkinsonism: onset,
progression and mortality’ Neurology; 17:427–442
Jenkinson C et al (1998), ‘The Parkinson’s disease questionnaire: user manual for the PDQ-39, PDQ-8 and PDQ
summary index’ in: Oxford: Health Services Research Unit, University of Oxford
Jueptner M et al (1997) ‘Anatomy of motor learning, part 1. Frontal cortex and attention to action’ Journal of
Neurophysiology; 77:1313–1324
Jueptner M et al (1997) ‘Anatomy of motor learning, part 2. Subcortical structures and learning by trial and error’
Journal of Neurophysiology; 77:1325–1337
Lee AC et al (2001) ‘Disruption of estimation of body-scaled aperture width in Hemiparkinson’s disease’
Neuropsychologia; 39:1097–1104
Lee AC & Harris JP (2001) ‘Evidence from a line bisection task for visuospatial neglect in left Hemiparkinson’s
disease’ Vision Research; 41:2677–2686
Lee AC et al (1998) ‘Mental rotation in Parkinson’s disease’ Neuropsychologia; 36:209–214
Lee AC & Harris JP (1999) ‘Problems with the perception of space in Parkinson’s disease’ Neuro-ophthalmology;
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systematic review’ Clinical Rehabilitation; 19(7):695–713
Lim LIIK et al (2005)‘Measuring gait and gait-related activities in Parkinson’s patients’ own home environment: a
reliability, responsiveness and feasibility study’ Parkinsonism and Related Disorders; 11(1):19–24
MacMahon DG & Thomas S (1998) ‘Pathways – practical approach to quality of life in Parkinson’s disease’
Journal of Neurology; 245(1):519–522
Martin JP (1967) The Basal Ganglia and Posture (pp33) Pitman Publishing Co Ltd, London
McIntosh GC et al (1997) ‘Rhythmic auditory-motor facilitation of gait patterns in patients with Parkinson’s
disease’ Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry; 621(1):22–26
Morris ME et al (1996), Moving Ahead with Parkinson’s Disease, Blackburn, Victoria Printing, South Australia
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Therapy; 80(6):578–597
Morris ME et al (1996) ‘Stride length regulation in Parkinson’s disease: Normalization strategies and underlying
mechanisms’ Brain; 119:551–569
National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (2006) Parkinson’s disease: diagnosis and management in
primary and secondary care (Clinical guideline 35) –
National Service Framework for Long-term (Neurological) Conditions, Department of Health (2005),
contact details: Long-term Conditions team, 4N26 Quarry House, Quarry Hill, Leeds, LS2 7UE,
tel: 0113 254 6027
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Neurological Rehabilitation (pp191–192), Oxford University Press, New York
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Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry; 63:429–433
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movement related potentials’ Brain; 121:167–177
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Treatment; 5:257–282
The pharmacist’s guide
to Parkinson’s disease
Drug therapy is a key component of the overall
management of Parkinson’s. Furthermore, a patient’s
drug therapy often requires careful adjustments to
obtain optimal effect – the drugs used cause a wide
range of side effects and many have significant
interactions with other drugs.
(see table below) and other conditions can present
a picture similar to that of Parkinson’s. It should be
noted that essential tremor (sometimes misdiagnosed
at Parkinson’s) is ten times more prevalent than
But before commencing drug therapy, it is important
that an accurate diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is
made. Recent guidelines have reinforced the view that
this should be done by a specialist with expertise in
the differential diagnosis of the condition. A patient
with suspected Parkinson’s disease should be
referred, untreated, to a specialist. If the symptoms are
mild, they should be seen within six weeks, but new
referrals in later disease with more complex problems
should be seen within two weeks.
Drugs which may produce parkinsonism
A significant proportion of patients given a diagnosis
of Parkinson’s by their GP, in fact, have some other
cause for the symptoms they are experiencing.
A number of drugs can produce parkinsonism
Sodium valproate
Calcium-channel blockers
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI)
Drug therapy
Drug therapy does not cure the condition and there
is very little evidence that it can slow disease
progression. However, substantial improvement in
symptoms may be achieved with the drugs currently
available. Unfortunately, these drugs often produce
unwanted side effects, so it is important to balance
the benefits of therapy against the adverse effects that a
patient may experience. In the early stages, when
symptoms are still quite mild and are having little
effect on a patient’s mobility and quality of life, it is often
best to withhold drug therapy. Clearly, the patient and
their family should be key influencers in deciding the
appropriate point to start drug treatment. A prerequisite
for this level of agreement is access to information and
help in gaining an understanding of the condition and
the treatments that may be appropriate. Information,
such as that in the Parkinson’s Disease Society’s (PDS)
booklet The Drug Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease,
can be a great help to the person with Parkinson’s in
making an informed decision.
Treatment is usually lifelong but changes in the types
and combinations of drugs, dosages used and
administration schedules will be necessary. This may
be due to altered symptoms associated with disease
progression or the development of adverse effects and
intolerance to the drugs. Generally, drugs used to treat
Parkinson’s fall into one of a number of groups,
depending on their mode of action. These are briefly
discussed below. When necessary, more detailed
information should be sought from standard resources
(eg British National Formulary, Martindale, SPCs) and
specialist sources of information focusing on the
management of Parkinson’s.
Drug groups
Levodopa (L-dopa) is converted in the body to
dopamine, the neurotransmitter that is depleted in
certain parts of the central nervous system in
Parkinson’s. L-dopa is administered in an attempt
to build up levels of dopamine. Dopamine itself is
ineffective if administered since it does not pass across
into the brain. L-dopa is always given combined with
another drug, called a peripheral dopa-decarboxylase
L-dopa has been in use for more than 30 years
A wide range of L-dopa preparations are available,
including controlled-release and dispersible
preparations; the relevant SPC or other authoritative
text should be used, if necessary, for details of
dosages and administration schedules of these.
The dispersible formulation can provide a quicker
onset of effect. For this reason, it is sometimes
deployed as a ‘rescue’ therapy when patients
experience ‘off’ periods. The duration of beneficial
effect is less than that with standard formulations.
The controlled-release products are sometimes
useful when fluctuations in response occur with
ordinary preparations.
but still remains the most effective drug available for
Dopamine receptor agonists
treating Parkinson’s. However, the patient may
These drugs have a direct effect on post-synaptic
dopamine receptors in the striatum, mimicking the
effects of naturally occurring dopamine. The older
drugs in this class are derivatives of the ergot alkaloids
and have the potential to cause serious adverse
effects (fibrotic reactions). Dopamine agonists that are
not derivatives of ergot are also available and do not
cause this problem.
inhibitor, to reduce the extent of peripheral metabolism
to dopamine. There are two oral preparations available:
Co-careldopa (L-dopa + carbidopa) [Sinemet®]
Co-beneldopa (L-dopa + benserazide) [Madopar®]
A special gel formulation of co-careldopa [Duodopa®]
is also available for administering directly into the
duodenum as an infusion via an external pump.
This treatment requires surgical intervention. It is very
less troublesome if the dosage is increased slowly.
The anti-emetic domperidone may be given if necessary
to reduce the severity of nausea and vomiting.
Domperidone is the only anti-emetic drug
recommended for people with Parkinson’s. Other drugs,
such as prochlorperazine and metoclopramide, will
worsen symptoms by blocking dopamine receptor sites
in the brain.
expensive (approximately £28,000 annually) and very few
patients in the UK are receiving this form of therapy.
experience side effects, including dyskinesia
(uncontrolled or excessive movement). These effects
are more common after a patient has received this
drug for a few years and may also lead to other motor
complications, including motor fluctuations (periods
when the patient is ‘on’ and can function well,
alternating with periods when the patient is ‘off’
and their weakness substantially restricts mobility).
A further problem that often occurs after some
years is ‘end-of-dose’ deterioration. This results in the
Ergot derivatives
Bromocriptine [Parlodel®]
drug’s effects lasting for a progressively shorter time.
Cabergoline [Cabaser®]
Adjustments in dosage regime, the use of different
Pergolide [Celance®]
formulations or the addition of adjunctive therapy are
different ways of trying to regain good control of
symptoms when these problems occur. Other side
effects include nausea, anorexia and postural
Non-ergot derivatives
Apomorphine [APO-go®]
Pramipexole [Mirapexin®]
hypotension, which may be more troublesome in
Ropinirole [Requip®]
the early days of treatment. These effects are
Rotigotine (transdermal patch) [Neupro®]
Dopamine agonists are used as monotherapy,
especially in younger patients and those with
available. There are two MAO-B inhibitors available
for treating Parkinson’s disease in the UK:
symptoms that are not too severe. They are also used
Selegiline [Eldepryl®]
as adjunctive therapy with L-dopa when L-dopa alone
Rasagiline [Azilect®]
is no longer providing a satisfactory level of control.
Dopamine agonists may also allow a reduction in
dosage of levodopa with a subsequent decrease in
its adverse effects.
The dosage of dopamine agonists should be
increased gradually to minimise the severity of side
effects. Generally, ropinirole and pramipexole are
preferred when initiating treatment in new patients
MAO-B inhibitors are used with L-dopa to reduce ‘endof-dose’ deterioration, which is often a problem when
Parkinson’s has progressed. These drugs are
occasionally used as monotherapy in the early stages
of the disease but generally other forms of treatment
are preferred. Selegiline can be administered as
ordinary tablets or as freeze-dried tablets, designed to
dissolve on the tongue.
as these drugs do not produce the serious fibrotic
reactions that can be associated with bromocriptine,
cabergoline, lisuride and pergolide. Dopamine
agonists tend to cause fewer motor complications
than L-dopa but neuropsychiatric adverse effects
(eg hallucinations and psychosis) and changes in
behaviour can be more of a problem.
Apomorphine can only be administered by
subcutaneous injection or infusion, though other routes
of administration are being tested. It is only used in
advanced Parkinson’s, which cannot be controlled with
other drugs. Since apomorphine is highly emetogenic,
at least a couple of days before the apomorphine itself.
The optimal dosage of apomorphine has to be
ascertained for each patient, balancing beneficial effects
against any side effects that occur. If more than ten
injections daily are needed, consideration is given to
infusing apomorphine during the daytime via a small
portable syringe driver, designed to enable the dose rate
and size of any bolus doses to be set accurately.
A transdermal patch containing the dopamine agonist
Catechol-O-methyl transferase
(COMT) inhibitors
Another enzyme, catechol-O-methyl transferase
(COMT) metabolises both L-dopa and dopamine in the
body. Administering a drug that blocks this
enzyme increases the availability of L-dopa and
prolongs its therapeutic effect. Two COMT inhibitors
are currently available:
Entacapone [Comtess®]
Tolcapone [Tasmar®] (use is tightly controlled due to
potential toxic effects on the liver)
rotigotine has been developed. This route of
administration avoids first-pass hepatic metabolism and
obviously avoids any potential problems with absorption
from the gastrointestinal tract. Transdermal rotigotine may
be suitable for patients suffering with dysphagia, which
can be a significant symptom with Parkinson’s and can
create difficulties in swallowing tablets. However, allergic
skin reactions may occur and these should be monitored.
Monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B) inhibitors
The enzyme monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B) inactivates
dopamine in the brain, reducing the levels available for
neuronal transmission. Inhibitors of MAO-B reduce this
breakdown, increasing the amount of dopamine
In addition there is a combination preparation of
co-careldopa plus entacapone [Stalevo®]
Tolcapone was the first COMT inhibitor used in clinical
practice, but reports of fatal liver damage led to it
being withdrawn from use in 1998. However, it has
now been re-introduced, but only for patients who do
not respond to entacapone. In these patients, liver
function tests must be carried out regularly to identify
early signs of hepatotoxicity. If this occurs, the
tolcapone must be stopped straight away.
co-administration of domperidone is necessary, starting
Selegiline and rasagiline can cause dry mouth,
constipation and headache, but the insomnia that can
occur as a side effect with selegiline is not produced by
rasagiline. This is because selegiline produces an
amphetamine metabolite in the body whereas rasagiline
does not. Patients should be advised to avoid taking the
selegiline during the late afternoon or evening to reduce
the likelihood of insomnia. However, here is also a
selegiline preparation called Zelapar, which comes in
the form of freeze dried tablets designed to dissolve
on the tongue.
COMT inhibitors are not used as monotherapy, but as
adjunctive therapy in patients on L-dopa who are
experiencing ‘end-of-dose’ deterioration that cannot
be controlled by adjustments in L-dopa dosing.
over a few months, reducing the usefulness of this
These drugs can cause nausea and vomiting, dry
mouth and abdominal pain. Entacapone colours the
patient’s urine reddish-brown and tolcapone intensifies
urine colour. Patients should be warned of this effect.
The dosage of L-dopa may need to be reduced since
its increased bioavailability, resulting from the
administration of a COMT inhibitor, may lead to
orthostatic hypotension and adverse motor effects.
Anticholinergic drugs
Glutamate inhibitors
Benzatropine [Cogentin®]
Amantadine [Symmetrel®] is not as effective as other
Orphenadrine [Disipal®]
drugs used to treat Parkinson’s. There has been
Procyclidine [Kemadrin®, Arpicolin®]
uncertainty about its mode of action but it seems likely the
Trihexyphenidyl (formerly called benzhexol)
[Broflex®, Artane®, Agitane®]
antagonist effect on glutamate is responsible for the drug’s
drug. It may impair a patient’s ability to concentrate and
sometimes causes dizziness and difficulties in sleeping.
Livedo reticularis and oedema may also occur.
Anticholinergic drugs are little used now in the
treatment of Parkinson’s; they are more effective in
managing drug-induced parkinsonism. However, these
drugs are occasionally useful in Parkinson’s when
tremor is the main symptom; they have little effect on
hypokinesia, bradykinesia and rigidity. Drugs in this
class include:
effect on Parkinson’s disease. Amantadine may also have
effects on dopaminergic and cholinergic pathways.
This drug has relatively weak effects on symptoms
but may improve bradykinesia, tremor and rigidity,
providing these are not too severe. It is probably more
useful in treating dyskinesias that occur in later stages,
as the disease progresses (see also under L-dopa).
Anticholinergic drugs produce a range of troublesome
adverse effects, including dry mouth, blurred vision and
constipation, as well as significant neuropsychiatric
effects. For this reason, and the lack of efficacy in
treating the more problematic symptoms of
Parkinson’s, these drugs have very limited value in
treating this condition.
Often, the beneficial effects of amantadine decrease
Pharmaceutical care issues
There are many pharmaceutical care issues that should
be considered to ensure patients gain maximum benefit
from their drugs and keep the risk of problems to a
A study carried out in three primary care trusts
(St Helen’s, Brighton and Hove City, and Coventry)
demonstrated the value of pharmacists providing regular
consultation sessions for Parkinson’s patients (and/or
their carers). During these sessions, patients were able to
discuss their experiences with their medication and any
concerns they had about the condition. The pharmacists
provided support and counselling on their treatments,
including side effects and potential interactions.
Advice was also given for optimising dosage timing
and, if appropriate, practical aids were provided to
reduce problems with drug administration.
The most frequent problems which pharmacists
identified were:
uncontrolled and unmanaged symptoms
the occurrence of side effects
the need for review of dosage or treatment regimen
A total of 336 consultations were carried out in the
study, resulting in nearly 600 identified ‘interventions’.
Three-quarters of the identified problems could
be addressed by the pharmacist, without referral.
More than 80% of patients felt the consultations were
helpful and 70% felt they were gaining greater benefits
from their drug therapy as a result.
The results of this study, plus the government’s wish
to make better use of pharmacists’ expertise in drug
therapy, should provide opportunities to further
improve the drug management of patients with
Parkinson’s. In 2006, the Department of Health
launched a framework for establishing Pharmacists
with Special Interests (PhwSI), stating that such a
development should build on pharmacists’ core roles
and provide opportunities to maximise the contribution
pharmacists make in specialist areas to ensure
patients received the highest quality of care.
pharmacist requests products that are the same or
The Department of Health has also introduced a new
contractual framework for NHS community pharmacy
services. This has increased the range of services that
pharmacists can offer. The Department of Health
document specifically cites providing support to people
suffering with long-term conditions, and carrying out
Medicines Use Review (MUR). Parkinson’s disease
would clearly fall within the remit of the framework.
Food and L-dopa
Concordance, compliance,
preferable to avoid taking L-dopa preparations at
Much has been written about compliance and
of the drug.
concordance, both of which are highly relevant
It should be noted that the bioavailability from
to patients receiving medication for Parkinson’s.
controlled-release tablets of co-careldopa (Sinemet®
As confirmed by the study carried out in community
CR) is increased when taken with food. Patients
pharmacies, patients need to understand all aspects
should also be made aware that the tablets should
of their medication in order to maximise benefits
only be taken in the format provided due to the
and minimise risks. It is very important that patients
potential altered pharmacokinetics of drugs ground
are involved and are influential in decision-making.
into powder, for example, to aid oral administration
Good communication is essential in order to achieve
to a person with Parkinson’s. Patients who have
this, and it is crucial that healthcare professionals
problems swallowing should consult a healthcare
recognise and understand those aspects of
professional who can advise on other drug
Parkinson’s that may potentially compromise this
therapeutically equivalent. Changes in formulation type
may affect bioavailability and control of symptoms.
Nausea (and sometimes vomiting) may occur in the
early days of treatment with L-dopa preparations.
Taking doses after food often reduces this problem.
In severe cases, the anti-emetic domperidone may be
taken. Patients should be reassured that nausea and
vomiting usually subside after taking the medication for
a while. Once a patient reaches this stage, it may be
meal times to ensure good and reliable absorption
as expressionless face, etc).
Adverse effects
All the drugs used to treat Parkinson’s have the
Dose timing
potential to cause a range of adverse effects. This
Many patients find that they are able to optimise
overview of pharmaceutical care is far too brief
control of symptoms by ‘experimenting’ with the time
to include details and readers are advised to consult
of doses (within the range prescribed). The patient
other texts for details. However, attention is drawn to
should be advised to seek professional advice before
the occurrence of sudden onset of sleep, which has
doing this. Such patients are often anxious about
been associated with taking L-dopa preparations and
anything that may then interfere with their
dopamine receptor agonists. Patients must be warned
individualised dosage timings.
of the possibility of experiencing this effect with these
Situations that cause particular concern are stays in
hospital, where staff who are unaware of the
complexities of treating Parkinson’s often insist on
administering medication at times in line with the ward’s
routine. Pharmacists can help to prevent this by explaining
to nursing and medical staff the need for sticking to the
times that the patient has found to be best, and by
marking the prescription clearly with these. In many
cases, it may be possible for the patient to self-medicate
while in hospital, which helps to solve the problem.
drugs and told to avoid any activities where such an
If the patient does not have sufficient supplies of
behaviour of someone with Parkinson’s changes, for
medication to take to hospital, it is important that the
example, they may spend more, show aggressive
occurrence would present a danger (eg driving).
Patients should only undertake such activities when
they have been taking the medication for long enough
that they can be sure they are not susceptible to
sudden onset of sleep.
Studies have also shown that a small percentage of
people with Parkinson’s taking certain dopamine
agonists will develop ‘dopamine dysregulation
syndrome’. It is important that advice is sought if the
(eg effects on speech, altered body language such
outbursts, develop an increase in risk-taking behaviour,
an increase in sexual desire or develop other obsessive
behaviours. Studies have highlighted that drug reduction
or withdrawal can, in many cases, reduce excessive
Drug interactions
The range of potential interactions between drugs
used in the treatment of Parkinson’s and other
medications is vast, and beyond the scope of this
publication. Basic information on these interactions
can be found in Appendix 1 of the British National
Formulary. It is important that pharmacists are always
mindful of potential interactions with these treatments
and some of the clinical effects can be severe.
In some cases, one drug should be stopped for a
number of weeks before starting another, eg selegiline
should not be commenced until five weeks after
stopping treatment with the antidepressant fluoxetine.
This interaction can result in hypertension and CNS
Withdrawal of therapy
If any of the drugs used for treating Parkinson’s are to
be stopped, it is important that this is done gradually.
Abrupt withdrawal of certain drugs can result, albeit
rarely, in neuroleptic malignant syndrome. This is a
very serious condition that may cause death from
complications of the respiratory, cardiovascular or
renal system.
Relevant resources from the PDS
Information sheets
Complementary Therapies and Parkinson’s
Disease (code B102)
The Drug Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease
(code B013)
Drug-induced Parkinsonism (code FS38)
Eating, Swallowing and Saliva Control in Parkinson’s
(code FS22)
Gambling and Parkinson’s (code FS84)
Hallucinations and Parkinson’s (code FS11)
Parkinson’s and Hypersexuality (code FS87)
Pill Timers (code FS53)
Motor Fluctuations in Parkinson’s (code FS73)
Further reading
Burch B & Sheerin F (2005) ‘Parkinson’s disease’ Lancet Neurology; 365:622–627
Buisson J (2004) ‘Vision for pharmacy – Medication reviews in a GP surgery’ The Pharmaceutical Journal;
Chan KL et al (2004) ‘Parkinson’s disease – current and future aspects of drug treatment’ Hospital Pharmacist;
Chaudhuri KR et al (2006) ‘Non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease: diagnosis and management’ Lancet
Neurology; 5:235–245
Clarke CE (2004) ‘Neuroprotection and pharmacotherapy for motor symptoms in Parkinson’s disease’ Lancet
Neurology; 3:466–475
Dodd ML et al (2005) ‘Pathological gambling caused by drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease’ Archives of
Neurology; 62:1377–1381
Fahn S et al (2004) ‘Levodopa and the progression of Parkinson’s disease’ New England Journal of Medicine;
Holloway RG et al (2004) ‘Pramipexole vs levodopa as initial treatment for Parkinson’s disease: a four-year
randomized controlled trial’ Archives of Neurology; 61:1044–1053
Johnston TH & Brotchie JM (2006) ‘Drugs in development for Parkinson’s disease: an update’ Current Opinion in
Investigational Drugs; 7:25–32
Khan NL & Britton T (2004) ‘Parkinson’s disease – clinical features, pathophysiology and genetics’ Hospital
Pharmacist; 11:9–15
National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence, Parkinson’s disease: diagnosis and management in primary
and secondary care (Clinical guideline 35) (2006) –
Nutt JG & Wooten GF (2005) ‘Clinical practice. Diagnosis and initial management of Parkinson’s disease’
New England Journal of Medicine; 353:1021–1027
Olanow CW & Stocchi F (2004) ‘COMT inhibitors in Parkinson’s disease: can they prevent and/or reverse
levodopa-induced motor complications?’ Neurology; 62(Suppl 1):S72–81
Shapira AH (2005) ‘Present and future drug treatment for Parkinson’s disease’ Journal of Neurology,
Neurosurgery & Psychiatry; 76:1472–1478
Tolosa E et al (2006) ‘The diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease’ Lancet Neurology; 5:75–86
Tugwell C (2007) Parkinson’s Disease in Focus, The Pharmaceutical Press, London and Chicago
Walter BI & Vitek JL (2004) ‘Surgical treatment for Parkinson’s disease’ Lancet Neurology; 3:719–728
The physiotherapist’s guide
to Parkinson’s disease
Physiotherapy or physical therapy can be defined as:
‘A healthcare profession which emphasises the use of
physical approaches in the promotion, maintenance
and restoration of an individual’s physical,
psychological and social wellbeing, encompassing
variations in health status.’ (CSP, 2002)
Physiotherapy primarily addresses the physical
components of rehabilitation, essentially, to maximise
the functional capacity of a person and their role within
society. Where people receiving physiotherapy have
a longer-term condition, such as Parkinson’s,
physiotherapy is generally regarded as an active,
The identification of deterioration and timely,
appropriate intervention.
The opportunity for targeted therapy for restoration
or compensation of function.
The involvement of patients and carers in
decision-making and management strategies.
(Turnbull, 1992)
The following section is an updated review of the
information produced by the Parkinson’s Disease
Society (PDS) Working Party of Physiotherapists
(Handford et al, 1997). Our thanks go to the
previous authors.
ongoing process and one that should be clientfocused in its approach and regularly reviewed.
Physiotherapy might incorporate only education and
advice, ensuring maintenance of a current level of
fitness and ability, or involve exercises specific to the
The aim of this section is to provide physiotherapists
with enough information to be able to understand,
assess, plan and appropriately manage the effects
of Parkinson’s on people with the condition and
their carers.
needs of the person with Parkinson’s to regain
or reduce pain. It also has a role alongside medical
The evidence for this section of the pack is based
on information from the following projects:
and surgical intervention to enhance the person’s
The PDS part-funded Physiotherapy Evaluation
movement, prevent falls, maximise respiratory function
potential with these interventions.
The principles of physiotherapy for people
with Parkinson’s
Early implementation of an exercise programme to
prevent deconditioning and other preventable
Utilisation of a meaningful and practical assessment
procedure to allow monitoring and identification of
rehabilitation priorities.
The Guidelines for Physiotherapy Practice in
Parkinson’s Disease (Plant et al, 2001), answering
frequently asked questions about delivery of services
for people with Parkinson’s.
During 2002/3, AGILE (a physiotherapy clinical interest
group for physiotherapists working with older people)
promoted these Guidelines to ensure working clinicians
understood how to deliver the theoretical information in
practice. From this informal consensus work came four
recommendations for physiotherapists working with
people with Parkinson’s (Ramaswamy & Jones, 2005),
In addition to physiotherapy, other physical adjuncts to
therapy may include approaches such as the
Alexander technique, yoga, conductive education or
pilates – techniques that not only promote movement,
but also are linked with social wellbeing.
Project (UK) that took place in 2000 (Ashburn,
2004), which provided information on the core areas
of physiotherapy practice, plus a model by which it
might be delivered.
these being:
1 Physiotherapists should locate the aim of the
episode of care as being either (1) maintenance of the
patient’s current movement capability, (2) management
of complex problems or (3) palliative care.
2 Physiotherapists should ensure their baseline
assessment comprises a comprehensive set of data
against which to monitor change with disease stage.
3 Physiotherapists should use an appropriate
outcome measure to evaluate the impact of a
specific intervention on aims of treatment.
4 Physiotherapists should relate treatment strategies
to problems identified at assessment.
These recommendations are for therapists who are
unfamiliar with dealing with people with Parkinson's.
They give guidance on the assessment
components, management strategies and measures
of assessment and outcome most useful in their
The RESCUE project – a multi-centre study on the
The Clinical Practice Guidelines for physical therapy
in patients with Parkinson’s, ie the ‘Dutch
Guidelines’ (Keus et al, 2005).
The American Association of Neurology’s
Parkinson’s disease guidelines (AAN, 2006).
NICE Clinical Guideline on Parkinson’s disease:
diagnosis and management in primary and
secondary care (NICE, 2006).
This section on the role of the physiotherapists in
Parkinson’s is not documented in true academic style.
Clinicians who specialise in this branch of neurological
physiotherapy have written it for other practitioners.
For this purpose the content combines research
evidence with clinical expertise and advice where
proof is unavailable at this current time.
It is not intended as a stand-alone text and
throughout the section there are references to look
up, recommended reading plus websites containing
more detailed information.
effects of cueing.
Association of Physiotherapists in Parkinson’s
Disease: Europe (APPDE), providing international
networking opportunities and the support for
research. It also produces resources for
physiotherapists with an interest in Parkinson’s.
The information provided is not prescriptive in
nature; it is written to form the basis of a clinician’s
understanding of Parkinson’s disease and to start
the process towards making clinical decisions.
Movement abnormalities in Parkinson’s disease
appropriate for physiotherapy intervention
The movement and postural problems in Parkinson’s are
numerous and complex. Below are some difficulties that
a survey of PDS members identified (Oxtoby, 1982).
Turning in bed
Sitting down and getting up
Getting in and out of bed
Climbing stairs
Initiating walking
Walking through doorways
The survey was pivotal in highlighting the need for
physical intervention in people with Parkinson’s.
The problems experienced by people with the
condition are usually caused by a combination of
factors and, while several may be experienced at one
time, the most debilitating problem as reported by the
individual will vary according to their perception and
needs. A combination of mobility problems and
postural instability that can occur in the later stages of
the condition may result in falls.
The three main symptoms of Parkinson’s all cause
movement problems:
Bradykinesia is a cardinal symptom of Parkinson’s,
affecting 78% of people with Parkinson’s, and is an area
that can be influenced by physiotherapy (del Olmo and
Cudeiro, 2005; Darmon et al, 1999; Morris et al,
1994a). It is caused by a reduction in speed and an
inability to maintain the amplitude of a movement.
While bradykinesia often refers to just the reduction in
speed, hypokinesia may be used to describe a
reduction in amplitude. Akinesia occurs in the form of
initiation problems, freezing mid-movement, thought or
speech, and termination problems.
Rigidity is an increase in muscle tone and is
described as ‘lead pipe’. Tone is increased throughout
the range of movement and is completely different
from the ‘clasp knife’ spasticity of strokes. In the wrist
and elbow, the rigidity may be combined with or
interrupted by tremor, giving a ‘cogwheel’ feel to it.
The difference in this type of increased tone is that it is
caused by the lack of sufficient neurotransmitter
(dopamine). This results in a body-wide effect, as
opposed to a lesion affecting upper motor neurone
inhibition and transmission to a specific muscle (or
group of muscles), as seen in spasticity. Although the
tone of people with Parkinson’s can be affected by
physiotherapy intervention in the short term, there is
no evidence to demonstrate the efficacy of normal
movement strategies having a long-term effect on
decreasing the effects of rigidity. It is suggested that
physiotherapists concentrate on maintaining the
available range of movement, especially in the major
limb joints and the trunk, in order to minimise the
effects of rigidity.
Of the clinical signs reported by people with Parkinson’s,
tremor may be the first obvious symptom to appear.
As Idiopathic Parkinson’s Disease (IPD) usually starts as
a unilateral process, a person may report that they had
noticed for some time that when they were tired, their
walking had become slower or one leg felt stiffer, or
their writing had become smaller and less legible, etc.
Physiotherapists are often the first people to recognise
the symptoms of the condition through their subjective
and objective assessment skills. The length of time
from diagnosis is often not an accurate reflection of
the onset of the condition; this is an important factor in
determining the stage of the disease and, therefore,
the aims of physiotherapy at that stage.
Postural instability is a later-stage symptom, characterised
by a combination of balance issues and autonomic
changes that can lead to a susceptibility to falls and injury.
This requires careful assessment by the multidisciplinary
team, and instigation of the necessary intervention, which
is most likely to be multifactorial in nature. This is not to
say that balance problems will not be picked up in the
earlier stages in the tests for proactive and reactive
balance responses.
Dyskinesias (or abnormal involuntary movements)
are common side effects of medication. They can, in
severe cases, be very disabling and add to the risk of
injury. People with Parkinson’s can often temporarily
and consciously improve both movement and posture.
However, since the symptoms of the condition and the
ageing process cannot be switched on or off at will, it
is reasonable to assume that there are other factors
influencing movement in Parkinson’s.
Factors unrelated to Parkinson’s may also affect
movement, for example the ageing process. Over the
years, muscles lose mass and, if not used effectively, can
become weaker. The range of movement at the joints
and the speed of walking also both become reduced.
It should be noted that an active 65-year-old may well
be fitter than an inactive 30-year-old. However, old age
increases the risk of disabling condition, which can also
affect movement and gait. Anyone used to treating older
people will know that there may be problems unrelated to
the main illness which may make life difficult for people
with Parkinson’s, for example low chairs/beds,
inappropriate walking aids, buttons and zips that
cannot be done up/undone.
Tremor affects 70% of people. Some neurologists
define Parkinson’s as ‘tremor-dominant’ or ‘tremor
non-dominant’. It frequently starts in one hand then
spreads to the other and, later, more widely
throughout the body. Tremor in Parkinson’s is
characteristically at a frequency of about five per
second; when it involves the thumb, it has a
‘pill-rolling’ effect. Tremor is worse at rest, usually
lessens with intentional movement and is absent
during sleep. Obvious tremor can be a great handicap
to someone when it does not improve on movement.
Difficulties can arise when eating and drinking and
some may find a manually-based occupation more
difficult to manage, which can affect their role and
chosen lifestyle.
These are signs of unrecognised bradykinesia and rigidity.
Some people with Parkinson’s experience non-motor
symptoms such as pain, altered temperature control
or loss of sense of smell, etc before they experience
physical symptoms.
Key points
Perception of difficulty when performing an activity, plus requirements to live the
chosen lifestyle, will dictate what aspect of the condition the person with Parkinson’s
finds most debilitating – tailor your assessment and intervention accordingly.
The three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are:
– bradykinesia
– rigidity
– tremor
Physiotherapy strategies have the longest lasting effect on bradykinesia.
Effects of medication, mood and fatigue levels can cause motor fluctuations during
the day.
Postural instability and falling occurs later in the disease process.
Parkinson’s disease will not explain all symptoms – assess thoroughly and do not
be dismissive of other factors.
The basal ganglia: implications for physiotherapists
We would recommend that this subsection and the
The BG comprises:
next are read in conjunction with the information on
• striatum (caudate nucleus and putamen) – with
connection from most parts of the brain, including a
strong link to the limbic system and globus pallidus.
Physiotherapists, therefore, need to be aware of the
range of emotional and cognitive issues experienced
by people with Parkinson’s as it may affect the
outcome of treatment
basal ganglia (BG) and cognitive, perceptual and
emotional processes in the occupational therapy
(OT) section.
As physiotherapists, it is important to be aware of the
component parts of the BG and their normal mode of
working. Appreciation of these will assist recognition of
the resultant dysfunctions that might be seen in
Parkinson’s and, hence, dictate the strategies used in
treatment to overcome or minimise the problem.
The BG is a collection of nuclei, mainly situated near
the base of the brain, that communicate particularly
with the cortex, thalamus and cerebellum. The BG is
referred to collectively as the automatic processor
(‘cruise control’) of the brain (Kirkwood, 2006), and to
perform normal activities of daily living the BG needs
to be functioning normally. This requires the ability
to converse with the thalamus and, hence, with
the cerebellum to work in balance to provide a
co-ordinated movement.
• globus pallidus (internal and external), a nucleus of
particular importance for people with Parkinson’s.
The reduced output from the GPe leads to problems
with retrieval of stored, well-learnt movement
patterns from the supplementary motor area (SMA).
This leads to problems when planning and initiating
movement and so is the basis on which cueing
strategies can work
• subthalamic nucleus – thought to help select actions
• substantia nigra (pars reticulata and pars compacta),
part of which houses the production system of
dopamine, a necessary neurotransmitter for motor
function and its subsequent ‘rewards’ and which
undergoes a neuro-degenerative process in
Parkinson’s. A decrease in dopamine results in
decreased thalamic inhibition, eventually causing
bradykinesia. As dopamine also has a modulatory role
in the central nervous system (CNS), a change in
background tone is noted from the signs of rigidity
and tremor. This explains the pharmacological ideal
of replacing the deficient dopamine
The BG has direct and indirect pathways, which may
be excitatory or inhibitory (Flaherty and Gabriel, 2004).
From a simplistic view, the direct pathway activation
inhibits BG output while indirect pathway excites BG
output. Where it becomes complicated, however, is
that dopamine has the opposite effect on the cells of
these pathways, so is excitatory to the direct pathway
and inhibitory to the indirect (Rothwell, 2004).
Some theorists hold the view that for each motor
movement pattern performed – for example, walking,
turning, running, writing – we have a motor set
alongside cognitive sets that control the flow of
thoughts and ideas, allowing changes of topic to be
followed (Deecke, 1996; Morris et al, 1994b). If either
of these ‘sets’ cannot be accessed, it could hinder
efficient, automatic function; it is thought that
dopamine allows each set to be opened and closed.
The BG controls well-learnt, long and complex
movement sequences (Morris, 1997) by co-ordinating
or ensuring the following actions:
pre-movement planning and preparation
initiation of movement
sequencing and timing of movement
maintaining cortically selected movement amplitude,
ie the frontal cortex is involved in the choice of
movement, after which the BG takes over
habit building
(Graybiel, 2006)
By allowing the shifting of motor and cognitive sets,
BG dysfunction therefore results in:
impaired performance of well-learnt motor skills
and movement sequences
problems maintaining sufficient movement amplitude
difficulty in performing more than one task
simultaneously (dual-tasking)
difficulty in shifting motor and cognitive sets
slower mental processing
perseveration in thought and action
Ideas on how these might be best tackled are
described later in this section.
Key points
The basal ganglia controls well-learnt, long and complex movement sequences by
co-ordinating or ensuring the following actions:
Pre-movement planning and preparation
Initiation of movement
Sequencing and timing of movement
Maintaining cortically selected movement amplitude, ie the frontal cortex is involved
in the choice of movement, after which the BG takes over
Allowing the shifting of motor and cognitive sets
(Graybiel, 2006; Morris, 1997)
The limbic system: implications for physiotherapists
The most noteworthy areas of the limbic system for
physiotherapists that might affect intervention and
carry-over are as follows.
concentration for the rest of the session, giving the
person with Parkinson’s the sense that the work is
worth the reward.
Amygdala – an area that predominantly produces and
responds to non-verbal signs of anger, defensiveness,
avoidance and fear. From the perspective of the
physiotherapist, it might affect people with Parkinson’s in
two ways – their responses to such signs in others may
be slow or their own mask-like face might negate an
appropriate response from others.
Parahippocampal gyrus – an area linked with
recognition of names and faces. As the disease
progresses and with age, this area becomes less
effective; hence it is important to consider treatment
in the home environment, which is more familiar.
Hippocampus – an area important in maintaining new
information so that it may be transferred into a memory.
This area is naturally shrunken and depressed in people
with mood changes. It is therefore important to consider
the amount of information you are expecting a person
to take in during a treatment session; it may take more
sessions until the information has been retained and
embedded as a learned memory.
Fornix – acts as the intermediary link across many areas
of the BG and CNS.
Cingulate gyrus – an area that co-ordinates sensory
input with emotions and emotional responses to pain,
and regulates aggressive behaviour. This area allows a
person to decide whether a response is necessary and,
if a stimulus is not sufficient, they will take no action.
For this reason, the outcome of physiotherapy
interactions must be a jointly agreed aspect, considered
‘worth the effort’ of the person with Parkinson’s. If pain is
an overriding feature of the condition, the therapist must
work to alleviate this to ensure the emotional set allows
Hypothalamus – a region of the brain that controls a
number of body functions; it serves the limbic, endocrine
and autonomic nervous systems. By balancing body
homeostasis and hormonal production, it organises
non-verbal responses to things such as aggression, fear,
anger and sexuality. The physiotherapist should monitor
responses in the person with Parkinson’s. For example,
if they are going red and sweaty with frustration, this
may not always be an indicator of a response to effort.
We need to bear in mind that some people with
Parkinson’s have altered autonomic nervous system
(ANS) symptoms and may perspire more. An alteration
in this system might result in other autonomic symptoms
that can be a cause of embarrassment or discomfort to
a person with Parkinson’s.
Another point to consider is the effect of dopamine on
some of the areas of the limbic system. In combination
with other neurotransmitters, such as serotonin,
dopamine has an important influence over the brain’s
‘reward’ mechanism and, hence, will either drive or hinder
an activity, depending on the level of success. Be aware
of this when goal-setting – make them achievable so that
the focus to maintain activity remains strong.
Key points
The BG and limbic systems are anatomically intertwined and, hence, their actions
cannot be easily subdivided into either motor or psychological domains.
The action of the neurotransmitters affecting the areas instigates interplay of both
Disease progression
Disease progression is graded by:
In general:
the disease stages – to establish whether they are in
Early phase
H&Y 1–2.5
Mid phase
H&Y 2–4 (it is within this phase
that people with Parkinson’s
show the signs of falls risk)
Late phase
H&Y 5
the early, mid or late stage of the disease; useful when
quantifying a stage for research purposes
clinical stages – practically useful for a clinician to
quantify whether the person with Parkinson’s is in the
diagnosis, maintenance, complex or palliative stage
Progression of Parkinson’s disease is graded either by
Clinical staging
clinical stages (MacMahon & Thomas, 1998) or by the
Hoehn and Yahr disease stage scale (Hoehn & Yahr
1967). It is useful to classify the stage of the disease to
establish the strategies required for current disease
management, as well as to determine the plans for the
mid term and long term.
Disease staging
During the 1960s, two neurologists studied the traits of
856 patients with Parkinson’s, investigating the pattern of
disease progression through a 15-year period. Using an
arbitrary scale (I–V), they classified the level of disability
exhibited by their case mix (as below). Although biased to
the physical orientation of the disease and with limitations
for clinical use, the scale is recognised internationally and
used to select/demarcate patients in research. It also
provides the margins with which the stages of the
disease are classified.
Hoehn & Yahr scale
mild unilateral signs
and symptoms
Stage II
bilateral symptoms with
minimal disability
Stage III
equilibrium impairment;
general dysfunction noted
Stage IV
severe symptoms; limited
mobility; support necessary
at home
Stage V
cachexia; dependent; immobile
(Hoehn & Yahr, 1967)
Some people further subdivide the scales into smaller
denominations, denoted by decimalisation, rather than
Roman numerals.
While it appears that therapists on the European
mainland use the Hoehn and Yahr disease staging more
frequently (Keus et al, 2004), within the UK, the tendency
is to also recognise the benefit of the more flexible
approach that the clinical staging classification system
offers (Ramaswamy & Jones, 2005).
An example of its use would be where a person is
admitted to hospital, unable to cope due to an infection.
Previously, if they were managing in their own environment
with minimal assistance and minimal medication to control
their symptoms, they would have been classified as
‘Maintenance’. The onset of the infection might progress
them clinically to the ‘Complex’ stage, prompting clinicians
to negotiate a temporary increase in social support, as
well as possible increased doses of medication until the
infection is cleared. The temporary services necessitated
by the worsening of their condition can be withdrawn at
this stage and the person will return to being classified as
Stage I
This method of recording the stage of Parkinson’s is
useful to physiotherapists as it exhibits fluidity according
to the state of the patient. It follows the predicted
ideology that intervention earlier on in the disease process
will focus on establishing educational needs and health
gain. As the disease progresses, intervention promotes
maintenance until involvement becomes palliative in
nature, to provide comfort encompassing both the
person with the condition, as well as their family/main
carer (MacMahon & Thomas, 1998).
Physiotherapy interventions
The following sections cover assessment, physiotherapy interventions and
outcome measurement throughout the progression of the disease. Please also
refer to your local Parkinson’s Disease Physiotherapy Assessment Form.
Assessment tools and considerations
There are, at present, no suitable assessment forms
for use by physiotherapists of which the validity and
reliability have been tested and proved. Depending on
clinical expertise, the therapist can choose from various
tools when assessing someone with Parkinson’s.
Assessment Framework (Schenkman &
Butler, 1989). This model is based on the World Health
Organisation’s International Classification System
(Üstün et al, 2003) and provides the therapist with a
means to identify various types of impairments and
how they relate to a patient’s functional problems.
This allows them to formulate an appropriate
treatment plan.
A comprehensive
English on the Centre for Evidence Based
Physiotherapy website:
Ideas from other sources. For example, as part
of an informal consensus of AGILE clinicians’ views
in their daily practice with people with Parkinson’s
(Ramaswamy & Jones, 2005), specific assessment
topics were identified and tabulated for the four clinical
stages of Parkinson’s. Evidence-based sections have
also been identified to classify regularly asked clinical
questions in the Guidelines for Physiotherapy Practice
in Parkinson’s disease (Plant et al, 2001).
Other considerations
Consider whether the assessment should be recorded
assessment proforma, such
by the physiotherapist only, for example, if the person
as that devised by Sue Franklyn (1986). Proformas can
with Parkinson’s is presenting at an outpatient
be very useful for clinicians who do not see people
department for a specific musculo-skeletal problem
with Parkinson’s regularly. One problem identified with
or as part of multi-professional documentation,
such proformas is that while they ensure major
as appropriate for a person requiring multiple
aspects of the condition are assessed and allow future
interventions and monitoring for their long-term
comparisons of status from one assessment to the
next, they do not promote clinical decision-making
Unlike the treatment regime, the timing of the
abilities from the clinician. This ability to develop a
assessment should ideally be at varying times of
theory from recorded data is what separates a
the day and during the cycle of medication to try to
specialist from a technician. In addition, a specialist will
capture the best and worst times for the person with
also modify the direction of the assessment depending
Parkinson’s. This is not always possible, so a clear
on the responses from the person with Parkinson’s,
idea of problems faced should be drawn out with
something a proforma does not make allowance for.
careful questioning. Issues such as stress, anxiety,
The Dutch Guidelines (Keus et al, 2005) provide four
fatigue and the wearing off of medication all affect
Quick Reference Cards (QRC), based on the current
the symptoms assessed.
available evidence, the first two of which are relevant
Sometimes, a relevant carer/family member’s presence
is required during the assessment to confirm answers,
especially if the person with Parkinson’s is confused or
forgetful. It provides the opportunity to gauge the
relationship and level of dependency; the significant
to assessment; QRC1: History Taking and
QRC2: Physical Assessment, which suggest a
baseline of evidence-based themes of questioning and
assessment. The Dutch Guidelines are available in
other may be a little overprotective, inadvertently
causing the person with Parkinson’s to become more
dependent. Be sensitive to the wellbeing of the carer.
NB: An assessment tool called the Carer Strain Index,
which will identify any problems, can be found in good
outcome measures databases or books.
While it might be easy to subdivide the areas for
assessment into subsections, the act of clinically
difficult, as there may be more than one reason for a
pattern of behaviour or inability to respond. In the
following section, some thoughts are explored to
provide the beginning and basis of reasoning; it is not
exhaustive and may not reflect what you see with all
patients. A bias is placed on assessment of the four
core areas to be addressed by the physiotherapist:
posture, balance, transfers and gait (Ashburn, 2004).
assigning decisions to each of the subsections is more
Key points for assessment
Posture – including joint range and muscle length
Functional gait – including freezing and indoor and outdoor mobility
Balance and falls – including problems with turning
Bed mobility
Muscle strength and power
Condition of feet and footwear
Effects of Parkinson’s on functional ability, wellbeing and quality of life
Posture – including range of joint movement
The tendency in Parkinson’s is for posture to become
head pokes forward at the chin, the thoracic spine
becomes kyphosed, the pelvis is pushed towards
posterior tilt as flexion increases at the hips and knees
and the person with Parkinson’s ends up on the
forefoot. As the trunk muscles become increasingly
rigid, the active range of movement is reduced so that
both trunk rotation and extension activity become
increasingly limited, affecting the counter-rotational
ability of the thorax on the pelvis until they rotate in the
same direction.
The degree of lack of trunk rotation is directly
attributed to the severity of the disability (Lakke, 1985).
In rare cases, the neck muscles can be particularly
increasingly flexed – known as simian posture: the
affected, causing very abnormal neck flexion. If the
head extends rather than flexes, the diagnosis is more
likely to be progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) rather
than idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. The reduced
active range of movement results in joint stiffness
and muscle architecture alteration, which may be
limited to a specific muscle group or joint (Leiber,
2002). For example, trunk flexion is likely to result in
lengthening of sarcomeres of the erector spinae
muscle, making the muscle contraction relatively more
ineffective. As attainment of the inner range becomes
more difficult, the person with Parkinson’s will no
longer be able to maintain an upright position for long
periods of time. Gradually some muscles become
shortened and contracted, eg the plantarflexors of
the foot, making heel strike increasingly difficult.
The abdominals and hip flexors cause their opposing
muscle groups to become stretched, weakened and
less effective.
Assessment should distinguish whether the imbalance
is permanent, through a fixed shortening, or whether
subsequent intervention may be able to correct or
improve this problem.
patients, stiffness and contracture can make lying flat
difficult and uncomfortable. Not uncommonly, a
scoliosis develops, initially due to dystonic contraction
or perhaps contracture of para-spinal muscles. In later
stages, bony changes can compound this. From the
physiotherapist’s point of view, seating and a thorough
assessment of the person’s ability to maintain an erect
position for as long as possible are important.
Poor posture also contributes to breathing, speech and
swallowing problems. In the more severely affected
Key points
The classical posture of a person with bradykinesia and rigidity is a flexed,
simian posture.
The classic posture of a person with dyskinesia is scoliotic.
Both postures influence all aspects of movement and mobility.
Functional gait – including freezing and indoor and
outdoor mobility
There are a number of different ways of describing the
2000, 1996), Murray et al (1978), Nieuwboer (2001)
Parkinson’s gait. The stooped posture with hip and knee
and Rochester et al (2004) and can be reviewed
flexion, small shuffling steps, lack of trunk rotation, heel
with visual examples on the RESCUE CD-Rom,
strike and reduced arm swing is well documented
which also provides an extensive reference list of
(Thaut et al, 1996; Murray et al, 1978; Knuttson, 1972).
physiotherapy-related articles on gait disturbances.
In some people, the shoulders are maintained in
extension and elbows in flexion to compensate for the
forward lean at the trunk. Toe clearance during the
swing phase is decreased as a result of reduced active
A physiotherapist’s assessment of reduction in forward
motion should include observation of the extent and
effect of:
hip flexion.
rigidity and bradykinesia
The step and stride lengths are significantly shorter
increased flexion of the knees, reducing the strength
than normal. The double support phase is increased
from 11% to 25% of the gait cycle (Knutsson, 1972).
As a result of a decrease in both amplitude and
speed of movement, people with Parkinson’s walk
significantly more slowly. However, these features are
characteristic of almost all abnormal gait patterns, eg
arthritic lower limb joints/post stroke. It is only when
looking at the angular displacements in Parkinson’s
that it can be distinguished from other abnormal gait
patterns. Full details of the alteration to the gait pattern
can be read in the articles by Giladi (2001a & b),
Knuttson (1972), Lewis et al (2000), Morris (2005,
reduced or absent trunk rotation
of the push-off and reducing the range of body
movement over the supporting limb
If the person with Parkinson’s experiences dyskinesias,
the gait pattern can be so erratic that assessment is
difficult, and the treatment plan follows alleviation
of current symptoms.
While the recording of gait is often based on visual
observation, there are tools that can be used in a
clinical setting to assess a person’s safety while on
their feet. The Tinetti Gait Scale (Tinetti, 1986) is a
useful observation tool for picking up problems with
gait that might lead to risk of falling. The Timed Up
and Go provides a more functional view (Podsialdo &
Richardson, 1991) of a sequence of tasks, of which
gait is just one part.
It is also important to assess the ability of the person
to walk in different directions, such as sideways and
backwards as well as forwards, and this can be
assessed using the Four Square Step Test (Dite &
Temple, 2002). There is also a specific Freezing of Gait
Questionnaire (Giladi, 2000).
People with Parkinson’s can experience other mobility
problems, including:
initiation difficulties, where the person cannot set off
freezing, which occurs during the course of an activity,
resulting in the person coming to a sudden standstill
termination difficulties, where the person is unable
to moderate their checking reactions to stop while
walking. The phenomenon of ‘festinating gait’ is an
observable version of this and observed as short,
shuffling, ‘running’ steps, where the person with
Parkinson’s ends up on their toes and has little
control to stop themselves.
A person with Parkinson’s may exhibit none or all of
these symptoms.
Key clinical points in the classic bradykinetic
and rigid gait
Reduced stride and step length
A slower, more shuffling gait pattern, with flexion of trunk and hips
Reduced trunk rotation and arm swing
Increased double stance phase
Decreased ability to perform heel strike on initial contact, following the swing phase
Reduced toe clearance for the swing phase
Akinetic problems such as:
– initiation difficulty
– freezing during an activity
– termination difficulties
There is no discernible gait pattern in people with Parkinson’s who have dyskinesia
Balance and falls
The ability to balance is affected in the later stages of
Parkinson’s (typically H&Y stage III). Most aspects of
daily life involve the act of multi-tasking, such as
walking and talking, walking while carrying etc, which
people with Parkinson’s find increasingly difficult as the
condition progresses (Rochester, 2004).
The effect of muscle rigidity, functional range of
movement, strength, posture, bradykinesia and defects
in balance strategies make it very difficult for muscles
to react as quickly as normal to rapid changes in body
position. This causes postural instability, which in turn
impairs righting and equilibrium reactions, increasing the
chance of falling. Intrinsic causes of falling might include
postural hypotension, visual defects and cognitive
problems. Extrinsic causes might include medication,
footwear and the environment. The percentage of people
with Parkinson’s who are reported to fall or be at risk of
falling is as high as 50–60% (Bloem et al, 2001).
While many falls occur in a backward direction, a large
proportion also happens when a person with
Parkinson’s is turning. In order to turn 180º safely, an
individual requires independent mobility, good ground
clearance, stability, continuity of movement and good
posture; someone without Parkinson’s will be able turn
180º in two to three steps, and a older person without
Parkinson’s in five steps or fewer (Simpson et al,
2002). When walking in a straight line, the eyes can be
on an immovable object, the feet remain a good
distance apart and there is good stable contact with
the ground. Problems arise for people with Parkinson’s
when turning because they are unable to see where
they are heading and the moving stimuli as they turn
can cause freezing. One leg may get in the way of the
other as they begin to turn; there is no heel strike, no
rhythm of gait, no stable base or dynamic stability.
Someone with Parkinson’s may take more than four
steps to turn and turns on the spot. The physiotherapist
should be aware that many people with Parkinson’s
will be able to turn in one direction more safely and
with fewer steps than the other; some patients may
freeze when simply thinking about turning (Stack et
al, 2004).
For further information, refer to the NICE Guideline
on assessment and prevention of falls in older people
(2004) and PDS information sheet Falls and Parkinson’s.
Key points
Dual-tasking can threaten balance.
Impaired proactive and reactive responses result in difficulties with balance.
Falls might be as a result of intrinsic and/or extrinsic causes.
Turning is a particularly hazardous activity.
The ability to transfer smoothly, efficiently and
independently can be affected in people with
Parkinson’s. This is observed when assessing how the
person rises from a chair, gets in and out of a car and
gets up off the floor. The problem is usually due to a
combination of posterior pelvic tilt posture (limiting their
ability to flex forwards) and slowed timing of the
sequences involved in the action of sit to stand;
when the person stands up, their centre of gravity is
too far back in relation to their feet and they can fall
backwards (Morris, 2000).
Because of the high risk of falls, people with
Parkinson’s need to be assessed for their ability to
rise from the floor (Keus et al, 2005).
Key points
Sit to stand is compromised in 54% of people.
On and off the floor needs to be assessed.
Bed mobility
As the condition progresses, finding a comfortable
position, turning, and getting in and out of bed
become difficult. Lack of neck and trunk rotation, the
loss of the ability to reproduce automatic movement
and a fear of rolling off the bed often lead to difficulty
in rolling. This is particularly the case when the person
with Parkinson’s has dementia or is easily confused.
These people are at special risk of developing
pressure sores and becoming incontinent.
The need to get in and out of bed also occurs at a
time of the day when bradykinesia and rigidity are at
a peak and the task is complex (Morris, 2000).
Bed mobility is assessed as part of the Lindop Parkinson’s
Assessment Scale (LPAS) (see reference section),
in later stages of the condition in the Parkinson’s
Assessment Scale (PAS) (Nieuwboer et al, 2000), and
has been described more fully in the Dutch Guidelines.
Key points
The following actions can all be problematic for people with Parkinson’s:
Getting comfortable
Turning while in bed
Getting in and out of bed
Muscle strength and power
A secondary effect of a reduced active range of movement
is muscle weakness, which is often reported as decreased
stamina when carrying out activities of daily living.
combination of the two. Decreased range of
movement may limit strength and power so must be
taken into account during the assessment.
Strength is the ability of a muscle to exert a force
against a resistance. While power also results in the
ability of a muscle to exert a force against resistance,
it has the added element of being explosive in nature,
requiring both sufficient muscle mass and quick timing
of nerve response to permit a required movement.
Either, if not both, of these can be diminished in
people with Parkinson’s, hence reducing power.
A clinical example of where these are important would be
The clinical relevance of the physiotherapist
differentiating between the two comes when
assessing functional activity; some activities require
strength, some require power but most require a
numbers of muscle fibres to overcome the added lack of
in the action of moving from sitting to standing. If a
person was sitting in a chair of a good height with a
sturdy seat, their legs and arms need only have sufficient
If, however, the seat was low or soft, they would need
power to stand, timing the forward lean at the hips with
antigravity extensor activity, as well as recruiting greater
support from the seated surface. Your assessment will
differentiate whether the person is weak, has problems
due to bradykinesia or rigidity, or all of these.
Key point
Muscle strength and power are essential for normal activities and therefore should be
assessed in terms of either function and/or in major muscle groups.
strength to enable them to stand up against gravity.
Pain can be a problem for people with Parkinson’s.
Primary or central, with burning or paraesthetic pain
It can vary in intensity and the effect it has, and is
not associated with a dermatomal or root territory,
which is not explained by a musculo-skeletal or
dystonic cause
Neuropathic – pain in the distribution of a nerve
or root with associated signs
Akathisia-related with an inner feeling of
restlessness, leading to an inability to keep still
reported along a spectrum from ‘unpleasant’ sensations
to ‘severe and intractable’ in nature, sometimes
overshadowing motor symptoms. It has been
reported as being experienced by 20–70% of people
but, most recently, a figure of 40% has been quoted
(NICE, 2006). NICE classifies pain according to the
following categories:
Musculo-skeletal, often secondary to parkinsonian
rigidity and hypokinesia
Dystonic, associated with dystonic movements and
postures, which often occur in the feet during the
‘off’ period
Differentiating between the causes of pain through
assessment may be difficult if the person with
Parkinson’s cannot distinguish between such things
as pain from dystonia as opposed to stiffness etc.
Form your questions carefully and try to discern a
pattern that will help you to differentiate between them.
Key points
While pain is experienced in a high proportion of people with Parkinson’s,
physiotherapists must still consider other causes.
A thorough assessment can identify the origin of the pain and indicate
treatment options.
Condition of feet and footwear
As muscle tone alters during the course of the
condition, it is important to assess the appropriateness
of the footwear worn, as well as the mobility of the
foot. Shoes should adequately support the foot while
allowing acceptance and response to the base of
support. Poor examples of footwear are seen where
variable oedema is accommodated by the wearing of
larger-sized shoes or less supportive slippers. Plus,
some people prefer fashion over function.
The condition of the feet can greatly affect a person’s
ability to bear weight and mobilise, and should be part of
the assessment, especially where it is suspected that a
person has been unable to maintain foot hygiene due to
tremor or lack of flexibility to cut their toenails.
Key points
Assessment should include:
condition of the feet
condition and appropriateness of the footwear
mobility of the foot and ankle
Effects of Parkinson’s on functional ability, wellbeing
and quality of life
During the assessment process, the physiotherapist
should be considerate of the various aspects of the
condition in relation to the impact it has on the person
with Parkinson’s. By the nature of our profession,
physiotherapists concentrate mainly on the physical
manifestations of disease processes and disorders
and, as seen throughout the assessment section, each
of these cardinal signs of Parkinson’s can affect the
ability to generate normal movement.
It is also important to listen to the perception of the
patient, as it indicates how the condition is manifesting
itself on their lifestyle and, hence, their quality of life.
They might report a problem from one of the signs that
you cannot influence greatly with physiotherapy, for
example the effects of a tremor, or may report that
they feel unable to do an activity when you have
assessed them as physically capable of doing it.
Don’t forget to take into account the effects of the
time of day, timing of medication, mood and fatigue,
to name but a few issues, as well as the concerns of
the family and carers.
The physiotherapist also has the task of assessing
at which point in the condition the ability to dual-task
or multi-task becomes hazardous. During the earlier
stages of the condition, it is important that the person
is allowed to live as full a life as possible. However,
once taking on two or more tasks starts to cause a
balance impairment, the physiotherapist should
assess how the person with Parkinson’s can
moderate their lifestyle.
Key points
The various aspects of Parkinson’s can affect a person’s wellbeing and mood.
Each cardinal sign can affect normal movement.
Assessment allows the therapist to consider the impact on the lifestyle of the person
with Parkinson’s.
intervention for physiotherapists usually involve
production and/or retrieval of normal, automatic
movement patterns; although there will be times when
you will need to call on your basic counselling skills
during the treatment session. Before you start a
treatment, however, consider carefully what aspects
from the assessment you have the skills and
knowledge to influence and how you can measure the
changes brought about through your input. (This will
be considered further in the section on outcome
measurement.) Also, consider whether your goals
are agreed with and whether it is important to the
patient that they are achieved.
The requirements of physiotherapy intervention will
alter according to the clinical stage the person is at.
During the earlier stages, greater emphasis is placed
on education and self-management and the patient
should be encouraged to continue being active and
participate in sporting activities for as long as possible.
Hands-on intervention gradually increases during the
middle stages, until the patient’s support network is
offered education in comfort and manual handling
during the period of palliation (Keus et al, 2005;
Ramaswamy & Jones, 2005).
A single course of physiotherapy is likely to be
inadequate for patients, as they will have the condition
for the rest of their lives. For this reason, all people
Having assessed the patient, the main areas of
with Parkinson’s should be encouraged to undertake a
programme of home exercises. Friends, relatives and
carers may be able to help encourage this.
Being a long-term and complex condition, it is
impossible for the physiotherapist to work alone to
deal with all aspects of the disorder, and it is very
important to ensure good liaison and communication
between all parties (professionals, volunteers and
family) when caring for and treating the person with
Parkinson’s. Areas where the multidisciplinary
approach is used are increasing, with physiotherapists
becoming more involved in Parkinson’s disease clinics
and home visits through community rehabilitation
services, in addition to hospital admission intervention.
Unless the patient has dementia or acute confusion,
they will not usually have a problem learning functional
movement patterns, although the process may be
slow in comparison to someone without Parkinson’s.
A balance must be found, however, if teaching
movements and strategies through repetition. If the
movement is practised so frequently that it becomes
automatic, it will be saved in the Supplementary
Motor Area (SMA), the area of the brain that is difficult
to access for people with Parkinson’s, and therefore
the movement becomes difficult for the patient to
reproduce. Some repetition has to occur, however,
as people with Parkinson’s can also have difficulty
performing novel tasks, especially as the
disease progresses.
Key points
Aims of physiotherapy intervention, as agreed goals with the patient, are:
to maintain and improve levels of function and independence and, hence, influence
their quality of life
to correct and improve abnormal movement patterns
to prevent contracture and minimise muscle weakness and joint stiffness
to correct and improve posture and balance
to maintain a good breathing pattern and effective cough
to educate both patients and carers about Parkinson’s disease
to augment the effects of drug therapy
Treatment plans by physiotherapists must take into account:
the effects of basal ganglia dysfunction
drug-induced movement disorders
age-related changes, including co-morbidity
fear of falling
disuse on functional performance
Physiotherapists can teach and encourage compensatory strategies, as well as
providing education and support for patient and carer as a means of dealing with
these issues.
(Morris & Iansek, 1997)
Concepts and projects to inform intervention
METERS (Plant et al, 2000) – Movement Enablement Through Exercise Regimes
and Strategies. This is based on the concept that there are four core areas to
be addressed to promote, maintain and use quality functional performance.
This should be the basis of clinical practice and research. The four core areas
are gait, balance, posture and transfers.
The guidance is for:
general exercise (core flexibility, strength, balance training, endurance,
co-ordination work plus relaxation)
specific/group exercise
The recommendation, however, was for a combination of all forms of exercise.
The informal consensus project conducted through AGILE (Ramaswamy & Jones, 2005), based
on the contents of the UK Guidelines for physiotherapists and Parkinson’s disease (Plant et al, 2001),
highlighted the fact that in clinical practice, physiotherapists would ensure intervention was used to
monitor, improve or maintain the following:
disease status
quality/safety of walking
balance and avoid fall risk
functional performance, including transfers
fitness and endurance
dexterity and writing
negotiating expectations from physiotherapy
monitoring cognition
determining quality of life
Models of intervention explored by Morris (2000) and Schenkman (1989).
The latter particularly concentrates on an understanding of pathophysiology,
impairments and disabilities and, through thorough assessment of these, the
physiotherapist can treat/work on achievement of functional tasks.
More proof is emerging for the success of physiotherapy in maintaining and
accessing automatic movement patterns through the choice of appropriate
cues and cueing strategies (Lim et al, 2005; Rochester et al, 2005; Howe
et al, 2003; Thaut et al, 1996; Morris et al, 1994a). Where possible, family
and carers may need to provide prompts, so should be included in and
involved with any treatment programme, especially as the condition
progresses. Physiotherapists will need to be involved in training individuals in
functional tasks in the home, community and workplace, teaching strategies
in many of these situations.
The most comprehensive work on cueing to date took place in a three-armed
multi-centre trial (Belgium, Netherland and UK) that researched gait-related
rehabilitation strategies for cueing in the laboratory and home. The RESCUE
project evaluated different types of cues (auditory, visual, somato-sensory)
and cueing parameters (spatial and temporal). Within the home, the cues for
dual-task performance were conducted three times a week; 30-minute
durations for three weeks.
Although the intervention was for a short duration, the main results from the trial
indicated that the gait parameters of walking speed, step length and step
frequency could all be improved and, most importantly, that rhythmical cueing
in the home can be safe and resulted in no increases in the number of falls.
This is often a dilemma with physiotherapists, who find that families worry that
if the person with Parkinson’s is helped to become more mobile, they will be at
greater risk of falling.
The trial highlighted that the best cueing modality was through auditory input,
and there was an increase in overall activity with a decrease in fatigue levels in
the participants.
More information about this work can be found on the RESCUE website:
The Dutch Clinical Practice Guidelines (Keus et al, 2005)
specific treatment goals in their Quick Reference Card
(QRC) 3
treatment strategies in QRC 4
Each is divided into early, mid and late phases, according
to the H&Y scale.
Required physiotherapy skills for treatment of
people with Parkinson’s
Depending on your assessment, you will need:
can become rigid, limiting tidal volume and
basic skills to assess the state of the person’s
respiratory function in general. In the palliative stage,
muscle architecture and the changes that can occur,
causing imbalance, maybe leading to pain etc.
Review the exercises you will use to correct these,
then maintain and improve where able
knowledge of exercise physiology, to provide
balance and strengthening exercises
musculo-skeletal skills to mobilise stiff joints –
particularly the thoracic and lumbar spine,
gleno-humeral joints, hips and ankle/foot areas.
Maitland-type mobilisation often increases both range
and proprioception for the patient, making mobility
easier to achieve. You may need to start a session
with passive stretching, but always incorporate activity
after this, to let the person feel the movement they
have gained
pain-relieving modalities, such as mobilisation and
exercise. Massage, acupuncture, ice, heat and
transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
may be useful adjuncts.
swallowing difficulties and increasingly flexed posture
respiratory skills, to monitor the condition of the
chest and treat where appropriate as the rib cage
can compromise respiration
basic understanding of ergonomics, in case you
are required to review the workplace and home
environment (including the garden, garage etc),
advising on things that will affect function and
quality of life
knowledge of resources available locally, so that
the education provided aims towards the person
self-managing and taking responsibility for their
condition as much as possible
In the later stages, intervention will be towards
positioning and pressure care, teaching manual
handling techniques to carers, plus assessing the
environment for hazards and the need for additional
It is important to recognise your own limitations and
access outside support agencies (including the
voluntary sector) and other appropriate professionals
to refer on to.
Cueing and movement strategies
Clinically, a variety of cues can be tried to
regain movement:
Intrinsic cues
There are two particular strategies that, given the nature
of the motor deficit, are likely to be particularly helpful in
Parkinson’s disease – cueing and compensatory
movement strategies (Kamsma et al, 1995).
The use of cues or triggers and compensatory
movement strategies is becoming more widely
used in the treatment of Parkinson’s as it provides a
non-automatic drive for movement amplitude and
timing; this in turn addresses one of the issues of the
BG’s inability to maintain appropriate amplitude and
timing of sequential movements.
Emotional set
Mental rehearsal
Internal dialogue
‘Manual shift’
Extrinsic cues
Again, it is recommended that this section be read
with the corresponding occupational therapy section,
where you will find further illustrations of the use of
cues and cueing strategies. More information, plus
visual examples, can be viewed on the CD-Rom
developed by the RESCUE Consortium.
Facilitate attention
Effect of visual environment
Visual cues
Auditory cues, including music and rhythm
Somato-sensory cues
Where people with Parkinson’s have problems
automatically reproducing functional movements, these
movements should be broken down into much simpler
component parts, put into the correct sequence and
conscious control then used to reproduce the whole
task. For example, with regard to walking, assessment
will indicate which component of the gait cycle is
problematic, so you may end up practising weight
transference onto the stance leg or concentrating on
heel strike on the swing leg etc.
Visualisation is a way of using imagery to access
Prompts, whether verbal, visual or sensory, can be
used to remind patients what they should be doing,
and sometimes a combination of these approaches
may be required.
movement. The classic example is telling someone to
visualise a door threshold to step over if they freeze at
the doorway, or imagine how satisfied they will be on
completing a task.
Intrinsic cues and triggers
Manual shift requires recognition by the person
that they are off the beaten track. This might be in
terms of motor sequencing or thought processes,
so if they realise they are no longer able to follow a
conversation, they either need to ask what is being
spoken about or catch a few words that will allow them
to understand the topic and rejoin the conversation.
On the whole, this type of cue is chosen for someone in
the early/middle stages of Parkinson’s, when they can
learn how to generate their own cues. In some situations,
overlapping cueing strategies can work well, while some
are better used on their own. Different cues or strategies
may be useful at different times of the day, and if one
becomes less effective over time, then another can be
assessed for and used. Different methods work better for
different people so it is important to try a few first, before
deciding that they do not work. It is also good to work on
these with your OT colleagues as they may have ideas
and solutions where you do not.
Attention Tasks require concentration to complete.
By providing verbal prompts or removing distractions –
eg turn off the television, stop talking while they are
concentrating – the patient can focus their attention
more effectively.
as well as mental rehearsal, is a form of cueing
classically utilised in conductive education training.
For example, the patient can be taught to talk
themselves through instructions for moving from sitting
to standing, eg ‘I come forward in the chair … tuck my
feet back under my knees … lean forwards … and
push up from the chair’. The patient can say the
instructions silently to themselves or speak aloud,
depending on their needs.
Emotional set It is important to approach a task
when in the right frame of mind, with a positive attitude
and ability to focus on an activity or conversation.
A good example of emotion-influencing motor
performance is when people who have fallen become
petrified of moving unassisted, although physically able.
Mental rehearsal provides a more constructive
preparation for a difficult action or task, allowing the
patient to run through the subcomponents of the task
in their mind first. It acts as a primer, preparing the
body to put thought into action.
Internal dialogue is when a person talks through
the actions as they are performing them. This strategy,
Extrinsic cues and triggers
These tend to be more useful for people entering the
later stages of the condition, when they might have
limited ability to remember the cues and triggers that
they have been shown. The use of external stimuli
might facilitate a better response.
Facilitate attention Attention is necessary to
perform a task; if the person cannot focus sufficiently,
the therapist draws their attention back to the task,
either by calling their name, decreasing distractions,
tapping them, etc.
Effect of visual environment People with
Parkinson’s may have an alteration in their visuo-spatial
fields, which can present a challenge to their function.
This is most noticeable in people who freeze, especially
when there is patterned carpet or a cluttered
environment. Uncluttering the environment is paramount
and, where finances allow, changing the flooring to solid
colour, flowing from room to room, is beneficial.
Visual cues While some visual stimuli overload the
system, causing a halt in movement, others ironically
enhance motor function. These might be in the form of
strips of coloured tape, spaced at intervals of
approximately one and a half times the foot size of the
patient (which are only needed in problematic areas).
Other aids that provide visual cues include a device
that gives a steady pulsed light emission, which is
attached to glasses, walking frames or a stick with a
laser light beam (activated by the patient when
needed) and cue cards containing a simple sequence
of instructions to be followed (see OT section for
details). Visual cues have been found to be most
effective with people with bradykinesia or during the
‘off’ phase if freezing is a problem.
a metronome or the use of music and rhythm.
Auditory cues have been found to be most effective in
people prone to freezing, during the ‘on’ phase.
Somato-sensory cues An example of this would
be teaching an accentuated heel strike to initiate a
forward step. More recently trialled in the RESCUE
study is the use of a vibratory stimulus to indicate a
rhythm, to dictate timing of movement.
Auditory cues can be used to initiate and maintain
performance of a motor task or movement sequence.
They can be in the form of succinct verbal command,
Gait disturbances in advanced Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s features
Gait disturbances
Shorter steps, slower, less arm swing,
Rigidity (with abnormal posture)
Reduced joint motion, flexed posture
Disturbed postural response
Fear of falling, hesitated gait,
Disturbed automatic motor tasks
Start hesitation, freezing of gait
Disturbed autonomic function
Weakness, light-headed unsteadiness
Involuntary movements
Dystonia or dyskinesias
components of gait to be preserved are stride length
and heel strike. Improvement in these two areas will
also improve ground clearance and cadence (number
of steps taken over a set time). More detail can be
found on the RESCUE CD-Rom.
Dual- or multi-tasking must be considered when
gait is a series of complex movements, strung together
in a sequence (RESCUE, 2005). Freezing is often
preceded by festination. This is a sudden episode of an
involuntary increase of the stepping rate (‘hastening’),
together with a minimisation of step length, but without
coming to a halt. Freezing can be best described as the
feeling of being ‘glued to the floor’ and is often
accompanied by trembling of the legs.
treating problems of gait, as most functional tasks
have a component of walking as part of the activity.
Freezing during gait
Freezing occurs when the sequence of a movement is
interrupted – this is seen particularly during walking as
When considering working on gait with people who
freeze, it has been found useful to adapt the frequency
of steps, ie lower the frequency of freezing, compared
with hastening the pace for people with bradykinesia
(Willems et al, 2006).
Research has shown that the most important
Freezing while in an ‘on’ phase
Freezing while in an ‘off’ phase
Freezing episode is of a shorter duration
Freezing episode is of a longer duration
The pattern has a more rhythmical influence
The pattern is more slow and halting; more to do
of festination
with hypokinesia
Medication does not help
Medicine can help
Freezing may respond better to auditory (temporal)
Freezing may respond better to visual cues
rhythmic cues
As noted in the assessment section, falling occurs in a
high proportion of cases. Further information can be found
in the NICE Guideline on the assessment and prevention
of falls in older people (2004) and the PDS information
sheet Falls and Parkinson’s (FS39), but some of the main
reasons why people fall, which can be affected by therapy
intervention, are as follows:
causing alterations throughout the body. Medication can
Parkinson’s symptoms resulting from rigidity,
progression, as new drugs will become available and
hypokinesia and bradykinesia can be minimised,
permitting better quality of movement. For some
people, it is sufficient to educate them about this
symptom so they can monitor at what time of the day
they feel less able; their lifestyle can then be altered
accordingly. Cueing strategies can be taught to
improve movement patterns and the performance of
functional tasks.
cause nausea and vomiting, postural hypotension,
confusion and hallucinations, especially when new or
when a dose is increased. Patients may be on
additional medication for other conditions, which may
cause further interactions leading to a fall. Review of
medication is required over the course of the disease
old ones may become less effective. If a patient is
admitted to hospital, it is important that their normal
regimen is followed and that medication is not
dispensed according to set drug rounds, as it can
impede their mobility severely, putting them at risk of
falls or freezing.
Hazards in and around the home – these often
restrict the stride length and gait pattern of someone
Additional physical problems – people with
with Parkinson’s, especially if other Parkinson’s
symptoms, such as alteration to vision and spatial
Parkinson’s are limited by the symptoms of the
condition but may also have other conditions that
affect mobility and balance. This is especially the case
if the person is elderly. Postural hypotension can be
particularly problematic and has many causes.
awareness, result in difficulty negotiating obstacles.
Objects that move suddenly, such as pets and small
children, are particularly hazardous to people who
find it difficult to accommodate their gait pattern so
check responses in these situations. When ground
The fear of falling has dramatic effects on step length,
clearance starts to become an issue during the gait
stride length and confidence in the ability to move safely.
cycle, advice regarding location of furniture and floor
Effect of medication. Parkinson’s medication acts on
coverings may be necessary to further minimise the
the central nervous system and is therefore prone to
risk of falls.
Treatable causes of falls
Certain Parkinson’s symptoms
Additional physical problems
Hazards in and around the home
Fear of falling
Rehabilitation in early onset Parkinson’s
Most physiotherapists will come across people with
Parkinson’s in the older age group. However, the
condition also affects a proportion of younger people
aged between 18 and 40 (Quinn et al, 1987). This is
known as early-onset Parkinson’s or young-onset
Parkinson’s. The younger person is more likely to
exhibit motor fluctuations and dyskinesias, caused by
prolonged use of doperminergic treatment. They may
require multiple drug combinations to control
symptoms as the condition progresses (Pantelatos &
Fornadi, 1993).
While a wide range of services should be accessible to
all individuals with Parkinson’s, there is particularly
poor availability of support in health service provision
for the younger age groups (Birleson, 2003, 2002).
Again, although physiotherapy management with all
people with Parkinson’s must consider the choices and
lifestyle of the person, those with early-onset
Parkinson’s may have difficulties related to relationships
of a sexual nature, as well as a change in their role
within the family circle; there might be work-related
issues if their occupation is affected by the symptoms,
plus there may be a knock-on effect on their
participation in a lifestyle of their choice as the condition
progresses. This is often more obvious and distressing
than in someone with the onset later in life who is retired
and with fewer family commitments with regard to
financial impact, independence etc. The physiotherapist
forms part of the much-needed support network that is
required for the young-onset person with Parkinson’s,
particularly if they are still in work and/or raising a family.
Long-term management
Physiotherapists need to recognise the importance of
developing long-term management programmes to run
in conjunction with short-term courses of treatment.
How a long-term management programme is
organised depends on service availability, staffing
levels or the ability of a person to pay privately for
ongoing intervention where NHS provision is not
available. The following points need to be considered
when setting up a programme:
Where – The most appropriate place to continue
When – People with Parkinson’s need monitoring
regularly from the point of diagnosis (NICE, 2006).
The frequency of this will depend on disease
progression and the problems being experienced
by the person. Monitoring may need to be done no
more than once or as many as four times a year.
How – It may be appropriate for some patients to
refer themselves as and when problems occur.
However, some people, especially older people, are
often reluctant to ask for help, so it may be more
Good communication is essential between the various
professionals involved with a person. If someone is
being managed in the community, professionals could
use patient-held records in which to write comments
and observations; these can then be read and added
to by the next professional to see the patient.
Wherever the professionals who are managing a
patient are based, it would be a good idea to appoint
a key worker who would then be responsible for
co-ordinating the help and treatment given to a patient
and their carers/relatives. This role might be
undertaken by a Parkinson’s Disease Nurse Specialist,
a community matron or a social services care manager.
In the process of managing a person with Parkinson’s
in the longer term, a balance must be struck between
maintaining a positive outlook, yet not raising the
person and their family’s expectations unrealistically
(NICE, 2006). A physiotherapist is a good person to
manage this as they have advanced problem-solving
skills and, even if they are physically unable to solve a
problem encountered, they usually know someone
who can help and, hence, will refer accordingly.
management into the longer term is in the home.
However, it is better to bring a patient into the
department than not to monitor at all.
effective to have an ‘at risk’ register for people who will
need reassessing.
Key points
Aims of long-term management should be:
to maintain the patient at the highest level of functional independence for as long
as possible
to monitor the patient objectively and at regular intervals so that relevant intervention
can be directed according to changing needs
to prevent or reduce mobility problems and deformities
to be alert to problems, such as speech and swallowing difficulties, drug intolerance
or failure, and to refer patients on to the appropriate professionals and services
to educate and support the patient, relatives and carers in the management of
the condition
Outcome measurements
The Core Standards of Physiotherapy (CSP, 2005)
state that an outcome measure must be used to
evaluate a change in a patient’s status.
As a clinician, it is important to measure the outcome
of your intervention as a means of reflecting on your
own effectiveness, and the information can be used
to inform audit and service development.
A wide range of outcome measures exists, depending
on what you or a team are trying to measure. There is
also a growing evidence base for use of appropriately
selected measures, reflecting the bio-psycho-social
manifestation of any long-term condition on the
individual’s quality of life (Bowling, 1995).
sometimes, such a tool may act to serve both
purposes. If appropriate, you can use a category in an
assessment tool where full scores were not achieved
and use this as the basis for your intervention,
measuring the success of the patient at achieving a
better score following treatment. Sometimes, as is the
case in long-term, progressive conditions, the aim of
intervention may be maintenance or even prevention
of deterioration at a slower rate than if there was no
physiotherapy input (Ramaswamy & Jones 2005).
Outcome measurement, as recommended from the
informal consensus project (Ramaswamy & Jones,
2005), can be done to negotiate the client’s
expectations and monitor any of the following:
In general, the aim of physiotherapy intervention is to
disease status
enable the patient to achieve maximum independence
quality/safety of walking
and quality of life through various interventions. While a
balance and avoid fall risk
simple measure of efficacy might be the increase in
step length through the use of a visual marker, the
functional performance (including transfers)
impact/outcome of interventions should also be
fitness and endurance
measured in terms of the ability of the recipient to
dexterity and writing
execute an activity, as well as the capacity to function
in their chosen environment (Üstün et al, 2003).
quality of life
Try not to confuse assessment tools with tools to
measure the outcome of intervention, although
Where possible, a validated, reliable tool should be
used to measure the outcome of intervention.
However, few exist that are sensitive to our intervention.
Also, to measure the entirety of what a physiotherapist
treats, you will need to use more than one tool.
Below are just a few examples of the tools clinicians
use in practice.
Generic physical tools
Generic quality-of-life tools
Functional Independence Measure (FIM)
Disease-specific tools to measure
general function
Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS),
particularly mobility section 3
Falls Efficacy Scale (FES)
Assessment of Balance and Confidence (ABC)
Stage specific
Patient-specific goals
Hoehn & Yahr scale
Clinical staging
Goal Attainment Scale (GAS)
Treatment and Evaluation by the Le Roux
method (TELER)
Mobility-specific tools
Disease-specific quality-of-life tool
Berg balance scale (BBS)
Problem-orientated Assessment of Mobility
Timed walks
Falls diary
History of falling
Timed up and go test
Elderly Mobility Scale (EMS)
Parkinson’s Assessment Scale
Lindop Parkinson’s Assessment Scale
Freezing of gait questionnaire
PDS non-motor symptoms questionnaire
relevance of the domains measured. These outcome
measures can be accessed through websites, literature
searches and outcome measurement texts.
There are more measures than these, and all provide
quantitative data about the severity, stage or impact of
Parkinson’s. Most do not, however, take into account
environmental, social and contextual factors, or personal
Key points
Measurement is encompassed through some of the following areas:
Promotion of increased activity and independence
Increased self-efficacy and reported feelings of wellbeing
Optimisation of independence through adaptation or support
Resumption of valued roles
Where appropriate, increase in specifics such as decreased pain levels, increased
range of movement and flexibility, endurance, etc
Publication of the National Service Framework (NSF)
for Long-term Conditions, other NSFs and the NICE
Guideline for Parkinson’s have resulted in support for
ongoing research and evidence-based practice for
physiotherapists working with people with Parkinson’s.
As mentioned in the introduction and the reference
section, we have provided information to support CPD
and clinical decision-making. In the UK, the CSP
clinical interest groups who specifically support
Parkinson’s-related issues are Physiotherapists working
with Older People (AGILE), Association of Chartered
Physiotherapists Interested in Neurology (ACPIN) and,
within Europe, Association of Physiotherapists in
Parkinson’s Disease: Europe (APPDE).
Relevant resources from the PDS
Complementary Therapies and Parkinson’s disease
(code B102)
Keeping Moving: An exercise programme for people
with Parkinson’s disease (code V011 – DVD and
booklet or code B074 – booklet only)
Living with Parkinson’s – a guide for people of working
age affected by the condition (code B077)
Information sheets
Falls and Parkinson’s (code FS39)
Foot Care and Parkinson’s (code FS51)
Pain in Parkinson’s (code FS37)
Physiotherapy and Parkinson’s (code FS42)
Speech and Language Therapy (code FS07)
Useful websites
AAN: American Academy of Neurology
Various guidelines for people with or dealing with Parkinson’s, but with a medical bias.
ACPIN: Association of Chartered Physiotherapist Interested in Neurology
Chartered physiotherapists working with older people.
APPDE: Association of Physiotherapists in Parkinson’s Disease: Europe
CEBP: Centre for Evidence Based Physiotherapy
Guidelines for Physiotherapy Practice In Parkinson’s Disease
Plant R et al (2001), Institute of Rehabilitation, Newcastle upon Tyne and Parkinson’s Disease Society, London
National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence
The NICE Clinical Guideline on Parkinson’s disease: diagnosis and management in primary and
secondary care.
Information from the international, multi-centre trial investigating the use of cues to improve walking
and mobility in people with Parkinson’s.
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The social worker’s guide
to Parkinson’s disease
As Parkinson’s disease is a fluctuating condition that
can affect all aspects of daily living, social workers
need to be aware of the wide-ranging impact it can
have on the lives of those affected by it, including
families and carers.
Symptoms will vary from person to person so it is
important to treat each person with Parkinson’s as an
individual and acknowledge the expertise people have
about their condition.
People with Parkinson’s can experience difficulties
meeting their personal and social care needs because
of the range of effects symptoms can have. These can
be very unpredictable, changing day to day, hour to
hour or minute to minute.
tiredness and fatigue
sleep disorders
communication difficulties
drooling and swallowing problems
handwriting difficulties
skin and perspiration problems
These symptoms, along with the three major
symptoms of tremor, rigidity and slowness/poverty
of movement, require a multidisciplinary approach
when assessing personal and social needs.
Multidisciplinary teamwork is essential if a social
Difficulties your client may experience can include:
bowel and bladder problems
difficulty with food and fluid intake
problems with movement and mobility
worker is to acquire a rounded picture of an
individual’s situation.
This section outlines best practice for social workers
to be used alongside any criteria specific to your area.
Assessment – communicate and engage
with communication difficulties to fully participate in the
assessment process, together with their carers (The
Assessment is an ongoing process and, because of
the fluctuating nature of Parkinson’s and the wide
variation in symptoms, it may be helpful for people
with Parkinson’s to access assessment and reviews
more frequently, in order to acquire a comprehensive
assessment of need.
Exchange Model, Smale et al (1993) may be helpful).
An holistic assessment is required and it is essential to
look at the social situation beyond the individual and
the here and now. The social worker’s role is to
develop and establish a package of care that supports
choices and needs, while also recognising and
negotiating the conflicts that choices and needs can
create. The social worker also needs to possess the
ability to change approaches if the situation changes
over time (Smale et al, 1993).
Assessment is a two-way process and it is
important that social workers empower people
The content of the care package is determined by the
criteria for access to social care services (called Fair
social worker
Social workers are required to carry out an
assessment of need in order to establish the balance
between need, risk and resources for intervention.
In community care, assessments may make the
difference between people living independently or in a
residential establishment (Coulshed & Orme, 1998).
Access to Care Services), and the eligible needs of the
person identified in the course of the assessment.
require the engagement of an advocate from the same
community in order to be able to participate fully.
Some, but not all, people with Parkinson’s can
experience problems with communication. McCall (2006)
suggests that 50% of people with Parkinson’s will
experience some communication challenges over time.
Quiet speech, poor articulation, slurring, loss of rhythm
and intelligibility, and lack of non-verbal cues, facial
expression and body language can create challenges
when engaging with clients. People with Parkinson’s
may require aids, not only in order to participate fully in
the assessment process but also to maintain social
relationships and reduce the risk of social isolation.
It may be helpful if a diary is kept by the person with
Parkinson’s or a carer; this may help the assessment
process and provide a record of daily activities.
However, this may not always be possible as a
common symptom of the condition is difficulty
with handwriting.
Social workers should initiate an assessment by
a speech and language therapist or occupational
therapist, where communication difficulties are
encountered, to provide support during the assessment
process. People from some ethnic minorities may
Social workers should use personal skills such as
listening and maintaining eye contact (although this
may not be appropriate for people from certain ethnic
communities). Vocal techniques, such as short and
precise sentences and emphasis on key words, may be
helpful, as well as allowing adequate time for responses.
For further information on communicating with people
with Parkinson’s, see the PDS booklet Working
Together Locally.
social worker
Implications for care packages
Many people with Parkinson’s do not require help with
personal care. However, if an assessment highlights
the need for support with personal care, it is
important that social workers who are organising and
producing a care plan ensure that the fluctuating
nature of Parkinson’s is taken into account. For
example, a home care worker arriving at a client’s
home at an agreed time may find the person with
Parkinson’s is unable to move or to participate in
meeting their own care needs. However, this situation
can change given time and, therefore, it is important
to build some flexibility into the care plan to take into
account the unpredictable nature of Parkinson’s. It is
the social worker’s responsibility to plan, implement,
monitor and review care packages. Monitoring and
review should include regular assessment in order to
establish whether new needs have been identified
and how these can best be met.
Domiciliary care staff, day centre staff and staff in
nursing and residential homes, or other workers, can
obtain information and possibly access training and
information days provided by the Parkinson’s Disease
Society (PDS). A Parkinson’s Disease Nurse Specialist
(PDNS) may be available to assist social care staff in
furthering their understanding of Parkinson’s.
Research carried out by the PDS in 2006 found
that the late administration of drugs has an adverse
effect on the condition. If a person with Parkinson’s
is unable to take their prescribed Parkinson’s
medication at the right time for them, there is a
disruption to their dopamine levels. This may lead to
a worsening of their symptoms, which can take some
time to stabilise again. It is therefore important to
ensure that home care workers who are supervising
the taking of medication arrive at visits on time. The
social worker should ensure that home care agencies
are aware of this need and that visits have been
arranged to ensure that medication is taken on time.
People with Parkinson’s who have problems
remembering to take their medication may benefit
from aids such as pill timers. Non-adherence to
medication routines presents a risk to people with
Parkinson’s and, where this has been identified, social
workers should arrange appropriate care provision to
eliminate risk. People with Parkinson’s who live alone
may have difficulties with bottles and blister packs or
may be unable to collect their medication from a
pharmacy. The PDS produces information on aids to
help with medication, and local pharmacies may
provide a delivery service.
Medication can have significant side effects and
impact on the provision of care. Social workers should
ensure that home care agencies are made aware of
any significant difficulties or challenges.
Abnormal involuntary movements (dyskinesias)
can cause difficulties and pain for the person with
Parkinson’s and may be quite alarming for social
care staff witnessing it for the first time. The ‘on/off’
effect can be extremely distressing and can cause
difficulties for social care staff. The ‘on/off’ effect may
also lead to misinterpretation and clients may be
perceived as difficult or unco-operative.
Social workers should be aware that hypersexuality
can be experienced by the person with Parkinson’s.
This is a possible side effect of some medications and
can affect both men and women. It is important that
social care agencies and their staff are made aware
of this problem so that, should hypersexuality become
a issue, action can be taken to manage the situation.
Another side effect of some medication can be an
increase in gambling or other compulsive behaviour.
Up to 10% of people are affected and this can have
serious consequences of both a financial and social
nature. Help and support can be obtained from the PDS
Helpline or PDNSs, who can provide advice with
Some people living with Parkinson’s experience
cognitive challenges. McCall (2006) highlights the fact
that up to 40% of people with Parkinson’s develop
dementia. People can regularly experience problems
with confusion, memory loss and concentration.
Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is a condition that
has similarities to both Alzheimer’s disease and
Parkinson’s. Of those with DLB, 75% will also develop
symptoms of Parkinson’s. Therefore, people with
DLB will experience problems with concentration and
attention, memory, language, recognition, the ability
to carry out simple actions and the ability to reason.
People living with Parkinson’s who are experiencing
mental health or psychological difficulties may require
specialist support from mental health professionals, as
recommended by the NICE Guideline for Parkinson’s
disease. Specialist support workers, mental health
charities and voluntary organisations may be able to
offer additional support and information. Social
workers should consider whether specialised
residential care or supported housing may be
appropriate – specialised day care or counselling
services should be considered as a means of
supporting people who are experiencing mental health
problems as a consequence of Parkinson’s disease.
regard to the side effects of Parkinson’s medication.
The PDS has produced the information sheets
Dementia, Dementia with Lewy Bodies and Depression
and Parkinson’s.
social worker
Psychological challenges
Depression is the most common psychiatric problem
in Parkinson’s and is experienced by up to 50% of
people with the condition. People who are newly
diagnosed are particularly likely to be affected while
they are coming to terms with the condition, although
no two people with Parkinson’s are the same and the
cause(s) of depression will vary. Changes in brain
chemicals probably play an important role. These may
make people with Parkinson’s more vulnerable to
depression triggered and maintained by important
life changes, ill-health or stress. The social worker is
well placed to recognise changes in mood and refer
on if necessary.
A to Z of considerations for the social worker
Aids and adaptions
In order for people with Parkinson’s to remain
independent in their own homes, major adaptations may
be required in order to create space for equipment or
access to areas of the home.
The National Service Framework (NSF) for Long-term
(Neurological) Conditions stresses the importance of
community rehabilitation and support (Quality requirement
5) and the need for health and social services ‘to work
together to provide care and support to enable people
with long-term neurological conditions to achieve
maximum choice about living independently at home’
(Quality requirement 8). Social workers should make a
referral to an occupational therapist in order for a full
assessment to be carried out, to ensure that the correct
aids and adaptations are acquired and grants and funds
can be accessed, if applicable. Local authorities may help
with disabled facilities grants, and home improvement
agencies may help with care and repair.
The PDS’s Mali Jenkins Fund can provide grants
(subject to means testing) of up to £1,500 for the
purchase of aids and equipment. The Disabled Living
Foundation can provide advice and guidance on
purchasing equipment and goods. Local authorities
can supply information on grants available for
services such as insulation, repair and replacement
heating systems.
It may be appropriate to consider rehousing if the
person with Parkinson’s requires more support or
supervision. Social workers should work with housing
officers in order to access warden-controlled or
supportive accommodation, or seek alternative housing
from the voluntary, private or charitable sectors.
Yarrow (1991) found that the principle source of care
and support for people with Parkinson’s is family
and/or friends. However, a recent report from the
PDS highlighted the fact that only one-quarter of
carers had received a carers’ assessment.
social worker
The NSF for Long-term (Neurological) Conditions
includes a quality requirement for carers of people with
long-term neurological conditions to have access to
appropriate support and services, which recognise
their needs both in their role as carer and in their
own right (Quality requirement 10).
The Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004 places a
duty on local authorities to inform carers of their right
to a carers’ assessment. The assessment should take
into account work, lifelong learning, leisure and the
carer’s opportunities to pursue these. It is important
that assessments incorporate support from housing,
health, education and other local authorities in
providing support to carers.
Support for carers is vital if they are to be able to
continue in their caring role. As Parkinson’s progresses, it
is likely that the person being cared for will require
more help with practical and personal care tasks.
Social workers should ensure that carers receive the
information they require in order to make informed
choices about the type of support that is available
and the financial implications, which are particularly
important for those who are likely to be self-funding.
The starting point for the carer’s assessment should
be the carer him/herself and they should be
encouraged and enabled to play an active part in the
assessment process. If a carer cannot fully participate
in the assessment process, an advocate may be
helpful. Information and Support Workers (ISW),
disability advocates or Age Concern advocates may
provide extra support and guidance to carers. If the
carer is from an ethnic minority community, the
engagement of an advocate from the same community
may be particularly helpful.
The assessment should clarify whether the carer is
eligible to receive support, what support is needed and
establish whether carers’ needs can be met by social
services or other service providers. Where social services
do not have a responsibility to provide services to the
carer, alternative sources of support should be considered
such as carer organisations or voluntary and charitable
organisations. The PDS has produced information for
carers on carer’s assessments: The Carers (Equal
Opportunities) Act and the Carer’s Emergency Scheme.
Yarrow (1991) highlights the desire of carers for people
with Parkinson’s to have access to an emergency support
system, should they become ill or have to go into hospital.
Social workers should provide information on:
home care services
respite services
emergency support services
benefits and eligibility criteria, particularly carer’s
carers’ support workers, who may be able to
provide support locally
carers’ groups and organisations
training that may be available locally to provide
both support and education to carers
It may offer reassurance to both the carer and person with
Parkinson’s if a plan can be arranged to provide support
and care, should an emergency occur.
Carers should be made aware of their right under
legislation to receive direct payments in order to purchase
the support that they have been assessed as needing.
Problems with continence may be experienced.
Help can be obtained from PDNSs or referral to
a specialist continence adviser may be beneficial.
Social workers should be aware that additional home
care visits may be necessary in order to assist with
continence care. Think too about the individual’s ability
to attend day services, participate in social activities
and retain dignity and respect.
Domestic care
Because of the nature of Parkinson’s, clients may
require support with domestic care, as well as with
personal care needs. Research has shown the
importance that older people place on domestic care
(Clarke et al, 2000) so the provision of some domestic
help may alleviate anxiety and stress, which can
exacerbate the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Domestic
care can also support and maintain informal caring
networks and may improve the subjective experience
of people with Parkinson’s, their families and carers.
It is important that the domestic and practical needs of
people with Parkinson’s are acknowledged and supported
by social workers, particularly when the needs identified
are outside the criteria laid down by local authorities.
Clients may experience problems with maintaining their
property and gardens. Occupational therapists may be
able to provide adapted tools, or additional support may
be required from housing departments, voluntary
maintenance and gardening schemes or from alternative
sources, such as the probation service.
End-of-life care
A key element is to determine what a person’s wishes
are regarding where they would like to be cared for.
This is known as advanced care planning and is a vital
process in understanding individual concerns, values,
goals and preferences. For more information go to
A national care strategy is being developed to deliver
increased choice to people near the end of their life
about where they are cared for, and die. This will
involve improving networks and co-ordination between
services, training for professionals and investment in
community-based palliative care services (Our Health,
Our Care, Our Say: Making it Happen, 2006).
social worker
Planning end-of-life care is vital in promoting dignity, and is
an important role for all health and social care professionals.
The NSF for Long-term (Neurological) Conditions states
that a range of palliative care services should be provided
that ‘offer pain relief and meet their needs for personal,
social, psychological and spiritual support, in line with the
principles of palliative care’ (Quality requirement 9).
Because of mobility, movement, balance and postural
difficulties, people with Parkinson’s are susceptible to falls
and stumbles. Sagar (1991) notes the high risk to people
with Parkinson’s from falling after moving from sitting to
standing. It is important to consider ways of alleviating
the risk of falls. Occupational therapists, PDNSs and
physiotherapists can assist in isolating and reducing the
risk of falls. Emergency alarm systems can provide help
if a fall should occur and it is helpful if people with
Parkinson’s are provided with a pendant or similar device,
in order to enable them to call for help if necessary.
Risk of falls, particularly at night, should be considered
and acknowledged by social workers during the
assessment process. If falls become frequent, it may be
appropriate to consider specialised housing, residential or
nursing care, or an increase in home care support.
Mobility aids may assist people with Parkinson’s in
moving around at home. Again, physiotherapists
can advise on suitable aids. Rehabilitation services
may be able to provide holistic support with mobility.
Disability charities and organisations, such as the
Disabled Living Foundation, can provide information
and guidance about the purchase of equipment, such
as scooters, to help with outdoor mobility.
Yarrow (1991) acknowledges the extra costs incurred by
people with an illness or disabilities, compared with their
relatively low incomes. Burchardt (2003) identifies the
fact that disability affects other members of the
household. In single-earner households, even where the
earner is not the person with the illness or disability, one
in five earners leave employment; Burchardt argues that
this is often in order to pursue a caring role.
It is imperative that social workers assist people with
Parkinson’s, their families and carers in accessing all
available benefits. Many people are unaware they are
eligible for benefits which are not means tested
(Disability Living Allowance and Attendance
Allowance). PDS ISWs can provide help and guidance
in claiming and accessing benefits and the Society
produces a wide range of information on levels of
benefits and eligibility criteria. Referral to finance and
benefits teams or Citizens Advice Bureau/disability
advocacy service can also help with maximising
income. Social workers should also offer and provide
advice about direct payments to all people with
Parkinson’s who require support at home.
social worker
Living alone
Many people with Parkinson’s live alone very
successfully. However, the challenge of living alone
with a chronic condition may add to feelings of
social isolation. Depression is a common problem in
Parkinson’s and it may be difficult for someone with
Parkinson’s who lives alone to recognise the signs
of depression. It may become difficult to maintain key
social relationships because of problems with
mobility, transport, communication, etc. Means of
communication such as telephones may require
adaptation or, if the client is on a low income, social
workers should consider the auspices of the
Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons’ Act.
In order to reduce social isolation, social workers
should consider social activities such as day care, day
centres or community activities, along with befriending,
support from PDS ISWs, or volunteer networks, where
available. Carers may also experience feelings of social
isolation. Referral to carers’ support workers or carers’
groups and organisations may be helpful. The PDS
may have a local branch which can offer the
opportunity to meet others with Parkinson’s and
to develop social networks.
Meal provision
Diet is acknowledged as an important factor in the
management of Parkinson’s (Leader & Leader, 2001).
People with Parkinson’s require access to appropriate
food and drink every day as they can be particularly
affected by constipation, weight loss and changes to
appetite. Access to Shop Mobility schemes or a
volunteer, support worker or social care worker may
enable the person with Parkinson’s to shop
independently and maintain social networks.
An assessment should consider whether Meals on
Wheels or a frozen meal service may help to maintain a
balanced diet if the person with Parkinson’s has difficulty
preparing meals. The use of kitchen utensils and ovens
may present a risk to some people with Parkinson’s.
If this is the case, referral to an occupational therapist
should be considered.
Ensuring that supervision at meal times is incorporated
into a care package can help to alleviate risk for people
who experience swallowing problems. A speech and
language therapist will also be able to help if this is
an issue.
Nursing or residential care
As Parkinson’s progresses, the client may be assessed
as requiring nursing or residential care. People with
palliative stage Parkinson’s may be eligible to receive their
care under the auspices of continuing care and it is
important that social workers recognise this and
initiate the necessary assessments promptly.
Others may require support and information on nursing
and residential homes, fees, charges, etc. The PDS
has produced the booklet Choices: A Guide to the
Health and Social Care Services, which outlines the
basis of charging for placements in residential and
nursing homes. It is vital that social workers provide
local information regarding the financial implications of
a placement in respect of property, top-up fees,
personal allowances, etc. The Society’s ISWs and
PDNSs can provide information and support to people
at the time of choosing and transition to nursing or
residential care. It is important that appropriate
assessments are carried out by relevant health and
social care professionals to ascertain the type of care
required. The person with Parkinson’s and their
families and carers may need ongoing support from
social workers to help them through the process and
to empower them in making informed choices about
their care and future. Hospital discharge should not be
rushed and people with Parkinson’s and their carers
should be allowed time to consider their options fully.
At the yearly review, you should take into account the
fact that many people with Parkinson’s feel isolated in
nursing and residential settings. Care home staff
should be encouraged to identify any changes or
additional support that may be required, such as
physiotherapy, exercise or specialist support.
to reduce risk of significant harm, for example
vulnerable positions, either physically, mentally or
occupational therapy assessment, GP referral,
financially. They may be at risk of harm from illness,
protection under specific legislation and increase in
due to disability or self-harm, or may find themselves
formal provision of support services or mental health
at risk of abuse from carers or others. It is important
assessment. (For further information about the analysis
that risk assessments are carried out to ascertain the
of risk in social work practice, see O’Sullivan, 2002.)
degree and type of risk and whether the person with
Where financial vulnerability is suspected, legal
Parkinson’s should be considered as a vulnerable
representation may be required, for example a solicitor
adult. Social workers are required to take action
acquiring power of attorney or contact made with the
social worker
People with Parkinson’s may find themselves in
police. The PDS can provide information on finances,
Age Concern, which can provide advocates to help with
financial advisers, insurance and pensions. Other forms
financial tasks such as paying bills and organising
of support can be obtained from an agency such as
Social activities
People with Parkinson’s should be made aware of
the support and services that the Parkinson’s Disease
Society can offer, including local branch meetings.
Many people with Parkinson’s continue to drive for a
long time following diagnosis. Social workers should
offer support about DVLA conditions, vehicle
adaptations, access to a Blue Badge, Motability
Schemes and Vehicle Road Fund Licence exemptions.
For people who do not have access to their own
transport, information should be made available about
community transport schemes, mobility schemes and
charitable or voluntary organisations that can help with
transport and costs. Yarrow (1991) found that most
people with Parkinson’s found public transport
either impossible to use or not available to them.
Support may be required to enable a person with
Parkinson’s to attend hospital appointments,
pursue hobbies, maintain social contacts, shop, etc.
People with Parkinson’s may be eligible to reclaim
transport costs for hospital appointments or may be
able to access motability schemes. CSWs can assist
with arranging and locating suitable transport and
completing forms.
social worker
Younger carers
Often, younger people with Parkinson’s have children.
The PDS produces books and information for younger
people and children to explain how Parkinson’s affects
people and answer the common questions that children
may have about their parent or family member.
recipient of care is being assessed or re-assessed.
There may be cases where children have adopted a
caring role within the family; this should be acknowledged
and acted upon by social workers. It is important for
social workers to consider the role of children within
the family and to look at any tasks or activities that
they are undertaking to support their parent or carer.
The Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1994 offers
all carers, including young carers, the opportunity to
have their needs assessed at the same time as the
obtained from young carers projects (for further
However, evidence has shown that young carers are
frequently excluded from the assessment process
(Dearden & Becker, 1997). Support for children who
are undertaking a caring role within the family may be
information see Dearden & Becker, 1995). It is important
to consider the role of children during the assessment
process. It may sometimes be appropriate for the
assessment of the child to be completed under the
auspices of the Children Act after referral to a children and
families team.
Younger people
Parkinson’s is often considered to be a condition that
affects older people. However, one in 20 of those
diagnosed is under the age of 40 (McCall, 2006).
Parkinson’s in younger people can have a significant
impact on family life. Roles may change and there may
be financial implications for families around issues of
employment and the increased costs, which evidence
has shown affect disabled people (Burchardt, 2003).
However, many people continue working following
diagnosis and successfully manage full-time work.
McCall (2006) highlights the fact that younger people
who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s are more
likely to suffer from depression, so consideration of the
psychological implications of Parkinson’s is important.
Support may be available from counselling services,
family therapy or PDNSs. A mental health assessment
may also be helpful where depression is a significant
problem. Younger people who are feeling socially isolated
Social care implications for younger people are similar
to those of older people. However, financial concerns
may be increased if the person is supporting a family
and paying a mortgage. It is important that there is
access to support and advice about claiming welfare
benefits and in maintaining or finding employment
opportunities. Specialist employment support workers,
Job Centre Plus and associated agencies may be
able to offer advice to people who are experiencing
difficulties with continuing or finding employment.
The fluctuating nature of Parkinson’s may make finding
and sustaining employment or training problematic.
However, with adequate support, many younger
people with Parkinson’s continue to work, many with
the co-operation of their employers, who have a
statutory duty to provide ‘reasonable’ support and
adaptations where necessary. Further information,
advice and support is available from the Disability
Rights Commission.
or wish to meet other people and families in similar
Voluntary agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau
situations may like to become involved with the PDS’s
can help with claiming benefits, as can finance and
Younger Parkinson’s Network or access day services
benefits teams from the Work and Pensions Service.
designed to meet the needs of younger people. It is
Disability advocates may also be a useful source of
important that social workers ensure that needs are
support. ISWs from the PDS can offer support and
assessed age specifically.
advice regarding welfare benefits and assist with
Evidence has shown that direct payments schemes
can help younger disabled people regain control over
their lives (Stainton & Boyce, 2004). The Independent
Living Fund may also be able to help younger people
with Parkinson’s to fund their care.
completing forms. The Society also provides a range
of rights and benefit information sheets and has a
rights and benefits advisory service. An employment
guide is also available.
Useful contacts
Action on Elder Abuse
Helpline UK: 0808 808 8141
Helpline ROI: 1800 940 010
Email: [email protected]
Contact the Elderly
Freephone: 0800 716543
social worker
Disabled Living Foundation
Helpline: 0845 130 9177 (Mon–Fri, 10am–4pm)
Email: [email protected]
Equality and Human Rights Commission
Telephone: 0845 6046610
Textphone: 0845 6046620
Scotland Telephone: 0845 604 5510
Textphone: 0845 604 5520
Wales Telephone: 0845 604 8810
Textphone: 0845 604 8820
Relevant resources from the PDS
Rights and benefits information sheets
Choices: A Guide to the Health and Social Care
Services (code B079)
Employment Guide (code B103)
Looking After Your Bladder and Bowels in
Parkinsonism (code B060)
Living with Parkinson’s – a guide for people of working
age affected by the condition (code B077)
Parkinson’s and Diet (code B065)
The Carers’ Guide (B071)
Various books for children
Working Together Locally (B100)
Attendance Allowance (code WB2)
Carers’ Allowance (code WB8)
Council Tax Benefit (code WB12)
Disability Living Allowance (code WB3)
Employment and Support Allowance (code WB16)
General Information (code WB1)
Help with Getting Around (code WB10)
Housing Benefit (code WB13)
Incapacity Benefit (code WB6)
Income Support (code WB7)
Insurance (code WB18)
National Health Service Costs (code WB9)
Pension Credit (code WB5)
Pensions and Financial Advice (code WB17)
The Social Fund (code WB15)
Working Tax Credit (code WB4)
Information sheets
social worker
Dementia and Parkinson’s (code FS58)
Dementia with Lewy Bodies (code FS33)
Depression and Parkinson’s (code FS56)
Eating, Swallowing and Saliva Control (code FS22)
Falls and Parkinson’s (code FS39)
Living Alone with Parkinson’s (code FS29)
Pill Timers (code FS53)
Parkinson’s and Hypersexuality (code FS87)
Gambling and Parkinson’s (code FS84)
Equipment and Disability Aids (code FS59)
References and further reading
Burchardt T (2003) Being and Becoming: Social Exclusion and the Onset of Disability, London School of
Clarke H et al (2000) ‘That little bit of help’, The High Value of Low Level Preventative Services For Older People,
The Policy Press in association with Community Care Magazine and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Coulshed V & Orme J (1998) Social Work Practice: An Introduction, British Association of Social Workers
Dearden C & Becker S (1997) ‘Protecting Young Carers’ Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law; 19:2–138
Department of Health (2001) National Service Framework for Older People
Department of Health (2005) National Service Framework for Long-term (Neurological) Conditions
Leader G & Leader L (2001) Parkinson’s Disease: The Way Forward!, Denor Press
McCall B (2006)Living with Parkinson’s Disease, Sheldon Press
National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (2006) Parkinson’s disease: diagnosis and management in
primary and secondary care (Clinical guideline 35),
O’Sullivan T (2002) ‘Managing risk and decision making’, Chapter 27 in Adams R et al, Critical Practice in Social
Work, Palgrave, Macmillan
Sagar H (1991) The Parkinson’s Disease Handbook, Vermilion, London
Smale G et al (1993) Empowerment, Assessment, Care Management and the Skilled Worker, National Institute
for Social Work Practice and Development Exchange, HMSO, London
Stainton T & Boyce S (2004) ‘“I’ve got my life back”: users’ experiences of direct payment’ Disability and
Society; 19(5):443–454
Yarrow S (1991) Survey of the Members of the Parkinson’s Disease Society, Parkinson’s Disease Society of the
United Kingdom
social worker
social worker
The speech and language therapist’s guide
to Parkinson’s disease
Communication and Parkinson’s disease
A commonly occurring feature of Parkinson’s disease
is communication impairment – between 75% and
89% of people with the condition will experience a
reduced ability to communicate (Logemann et al,
1978; Mutch et al, 1986). It is one of the many
complex aspects of this neurodegenerative condition
that needs careful, knowledge-based management
within a multidisciplinary setting.
communication is often a lifeline to retaining
independence and quality of life, through work
and social interaction.
With neuropharmalogical and neurosurgical treatments
reported as having only a variable and unpredictable
impact on improving speech production (Pinto et al,
2004), speech and language therapists are faced with
an ongoing and exciting challenge to bring evidence-
The prevalence of Parkinson’s rises with age, from
1.5 per 1,000 people below the age of 80 to two per
1,000 in those over 80. For older people, who are often
faced with reduced mobility and social contacts, the
ability to communicate gains even greater importance –
as a link to others and as a way of maintaining
emotional stability and a sense of wellbeing (Casper
et al, 2000). For younger people with Parkinson’s,
based, effective treatment methods into their clinics,
as well as to inform the research process.
This section aims to assist this process by describing:
the nature of the speech and language presentation
in Parkinson’s
progression throughout the course of the condition
evidence-based treatment methods and applications
The nature of speech and language presentation
in Parkinson’s
movements, including head nodding and shaking, may
Communication can be affected on several levels.
Reduced facial mobility can be a significant feature
of the condition – although the patient is able to
move their facial muscles, hypokinesia or poverty
of movement makes a change in movement difficult
or slow. A reduction in facial muscle activity results
in a ‘mask-like’ facial expression, which gives an
impression of flat affect, despite an apparently normal
experience of emotion. This is likely to contribute to
the perception of depression, anxiety and detachment.
Communication partners, sensing this, may withdraw,
leading to a breakdown of communication and isolation
for the person with Parkinson’s (Pentland et al, 1987).
In some cases, eye contact may be disrupted: a
reduced eye blink reflex may be experienced or eyes
can be fixed closed for several seconds. Gestural
also be reduced. In addition, writing may become very
small (micrographic) and eventually illegible, cutting off
another means of communication.
Motor speech
Described as hypokinetic dysarthria by Darley in 1969,
the most commonly reported perceptual features are:
reduced loudness
monoloudness and monopitch
breathiness and harshness
reduced prosody
imprecise articulation
(Logemann, 1978; Johnson & Pring, 1990;
Hammen & Yorkston, 1996)
The physiological and neuropathological mechanisms
underlying speech in Parkinson’s are still being
determined but it is clear that laryngeal and phonatory
impairments are a predominant feature. Studies have
found vocal fold bowing is a consistent laryngeal
finding in patients with Parkinson’s – a recent study
found 87% of patients presented with bowing of vocal
folds (Blumin et al, 2004).
Laryngeal impairments have been attributed to reduced
laryngeal muscle activation or muscle atrophy, stiffness
or rigidity of vocal folds and/or respiratory muscles and
a general reduced drive of amplitude to the muscles of
the speech mechanism (Ramig et al, 2001).
Whatever the underlying causes, patients with
Parkinson’s will often present these features and
it is important that we understand their typical
presentation, as well as assessing them as individuals.
Reduced loudness
People with Parkinson’s often present with a soft,
weak voice that may just be audible in a one-to-one
situation but will be lost in a noisier environment.
They may often be aware that they are having to
repeat themselves more frequently but do not
associate this with a reduction in their volume.
They are more likely to assume their communication
partner has a hearing problem.
This is the result of a problem in sensory perception of
effort, which prevents them from accurately monitoring
their spoken output and a difficulty in self-generating
the right amount of effort for adequate loudness
(Fox et al, 2002). They will therefore often believe
they are shouting when they are not. Speech may
start at an adequate volume but gradually fade to
become unintelligible.
Monoloudness and monopitch
Difficulty in varying volume and pitch leads to a lack
of inflectional changes and emphasis in speech and
contributes to reduced intelligibility. Singing may also
be difficult.
Breathiness and harshness
The occurrence of breathiness and harshness have
been noted frequently as perceptual features (Darley et
al, 1969; Logemann et al, 1978), with a breathy voice
quality sometimes also being described as continuous.
Word stress can be reduced and syllabic stress may
sometimes be inappropriate or syllables may be
omitted from multisyllabic words. Rate of speech can
be either too rapid, sometimes with accompanying
repetition of syllables or words, referred to as palilalia,
or can be very slow. Sometimes, just as difficulty in
initiating walking can occur, there may be difficulty
initiating speech – or ‘freezes’ – when there may be
inappropriate silences in the middle of a sentence.
This can be very distressing for the person with
Parkinson’s, and carers need to be helped with
strategies to ‘repair’ the conversation.
Imprecise articulation
This is typically present in conversation although
in single word testing, performance can be normal.
The imprecision is likely to result from the range
of movements being narrowed and laryngeal and
oral co-ordination being reduced, leading to distortions
and omissions of phonemes.
Neuropsychological functioning
It has been estimated that 40–60% of people
with Parkinson’s experience decreased cognitive
functioning (Mahler & Cummings, 1990) and while
for some this may be part of a global process of
dementia, many others experience a particular
pattern of deficits specific to Parkinson’s.
These deficits may be very subtle and sometimes
undetectable in a straightforward conversation.
They include slow thinking and slow learning,
problems shifting cognitive sets, problems internally
cueing and with procedural memory (Lees, 1994;
Brown et al, 1988; Fimm et al, 1994). There may
also be a reduction in pragmatic communication
skills in areas such as conversation appropriateness,
turn-taking and sometimes word-finding difficulty
(Murray et al 2000).
It is essential, when planning treatment, that these
impairments are recognised and that learning theories
and compensatory strategies are brought into each
programme. Depression is also a common feature,
affecting 40–50% of people with Parkinson’s (Goetz et
al, 2002), and needs to be recognised and addressed
as part of overall management and through
multidisciplinary working.
Progression of speech and voice symptoms in Parkinson’s
There has been limited research on how speech
presentation changes during the progression of the
condition but a study by Holmes et al (2000) found
that initial symptoms were of vocal dysfunction –
monopitch, monoloudness, low loudness and soft,
breathy voice. It suggested that these characteristics
deteriorate with the progression of the condition, most
likely as a result of increasing rigidity and bradykinesia
and their impact on the laryngeal and respiratory
musculature. Tremor was the sole voice feature
associated only with later stage Parkinson’s and this,
also, was seen to deteriorate. It is therefore useful for
clinicians to be alert to these early signs, both
diagnostically and also to encourage early referrals, as
treatment outcomes are likely to be better if initiated at
early or mid stage rather than at end stage.
Evidence-based treatment methods and applications
In the 1980s and 90s, speech and language therapy for
people with Parkinson’s was rare – an initial study by
Oxtoby et al (1982) estimated that of the 75–89% of
people with speech problems, only 3–4% ever received
therapy. This was further updated in 1999 by another
survey of members of the Parkinson’s Disease Society,
where access to speech and language therapy was
found to have increased to 20% (Yarrow, 1999) –
still a low figure.
Treatment took place (and, in some cases, still
does) typically once a week for a small number of
weeks, and was then followed up by reviews later in
the year. Treatment was either individually or in groups.
Many aspects were included – for example articulation,
breathing, rate and prosody – and efficacy data
indicated limited success, particularly for long-term
quantification of behaviours
By combining principles of skill acquisition and motor
learning – keeping it simple, high-effort, with multiple
repetitions and a focus on sensory awareness –
the programme is specifically tailored to people with
Parkinson’s. It has been successful for people with
a range of cognitive impairments, including mild to
moderate dementia and also mild to moderate
depression. Interestingly, there is also preliminary
evidence that facial expression is improved through
this intensive programme (Spielman et al, 2003).
While LSVT is designed to be administered individually,
some therapists have started to incorporate elements
of the programme into group settings (Manor et al,
2003), again with successful preliminary findings.
While there are still unanswered questions and more
research is needed, LSVT is currently the treatment
However, in the past ten years, there have been some
method with the most sound and positive evidence
exciting developments in treatment methods, with
base and, as such, clinicians should have access to
sound efficacy data showing long-term improvements
the accredited courses. It then needs to be
– as much as two years post-treatment (Ramig et
incorporated into the wider picture of communication
al, 2001) – and neural correlates showing the effects
management in Parkinson’s. This involves:
on regional blood flow following treatment (Liotti et
detailed assessment and recording for pre- and
post-treatment analysis
al, 2003).
One such method is known as the Lee Silvermann
Voice Treatment (LSVT) (Fox et al, 2002) and directs
attention to phonation (voice) as a key element.
The essential concepts are:
exclusive focus on voice, specifically vocal loudness
advice/work with carers and communication partners
stimulation of high-effort productions with
multiple repetitions
intensive treatment delivery (four individual sessions
a week for four weeks)
enhancing sensory awareness of increased vocal
effort and loudness
on strategies and tips for improving communication
addressing hearing impairment/partner’s hearing
awareness of drug regimen and effects on speech,
eg end-of-cycle effect
evaluation of need for alternative augmentative
communication aid in later stages and advice
multidisciplinary working, advising colleagues
continuous professional development of condition
and current interventions
treatment exercises to achieve and maintain
Augmentative and alternative communication systems (AAC)
Assessing the communication abilities and needs of
somebody with Parkinson’s may sometimes lead to
consideration of AAC. Technology in general can
improve quality of life; for the increasingly computerliterate ageing population and younger people with
Parkinson’s, technological advances can facilitate
improved communication and social links.
Careful assessment is the first step, to establish
whether a low-tech aid (such as an E-Tran frame/
communication chart) or high-tech aid (such as a
text-to-speech aid) is appropriate and whether further
specialist expertise from a communication aid centre
may be helpful. A common symptom of advanced
Parkinson’s is cognitive impairment. Therefore it is
important to assess carefully and try out any aid prior
to purchase. It is especially important to involve the carer
and give them the opportunity to practise using the aid
before buying.
2001) by Frenchay AAC department describes the
benefits they can bring to a range of conditions.
Again, careful assessment and testing is needed to
establish whether they would enhance communication
and which type of amplifier is most appropriate
(eg wireless or non-wireless amplifier), also assessing
how easy it is for the person to operate the volume
Encouraging the use of the internet/email is sometimes
appropriate and advice from occupational therapy
colleagues and organisations such as AbilityNet on
adaptations to seating/posture, as well as how to
customise the computer/keyboard/mouse, can be helpful.
Telephone use and any adaptations to enhance use,
such as those provided by BT, should be assessed
and the patient provided with contacts/information
relevant to their needs.
Amplifiers may be considered if articulation remains
relatively clear. An article in RCSLT Bulletin (September
Swallowing in Parkinson’s disease
Swallowing disorders have been reported in as many
as 95% of people with Parkinson’s (Logemann et al,
1975; Blonsky et al, 1975). Although the severity, even
in the later stages, is not usually great enough
to require non-oral feeding (Lieberman et al, 1980),
it remains a significant feature of the condition, which
demands careful assessment and management.
Videofluoroscopic studies have demonstrated motility
disorders in all phases of the swallow – oral,
pharyngeal and oesophageal (Logemann et al, 1988).
The main features are :
disturbed lingual movement with characteristic
‘rocking’ or ‘pumping’ tongue movement back
and forth
reduced tongue base retraction, with residual food
subsequently remaining in the valleculae (This is
significant as a possible cause of erratic absorption
of tablets and reduced response to medical
reduced range and co-ordination of tongue
movements with decreased ability to chew,
control bolus and move posteriorally
the above disturbances in lingual function lead to
increased oral transit time
delayed triggering of the pharyngeal swallow
reduced laryngeal closure and/or elevation
aspiration (various levels reported in the literature
from just laryngeal penetration to frequent
aspiration). Also included is silent aspiration, where
the patient shows no coughing/awareness or overt
signs of food or liquid having passed below the level
of the vocal folds
Management of eating and drinking
As with all neurodegenerative conditions,
careful assessment and monitoring is important.
The accompanying features in Parkinson’s disease
of cognitive impairment and depression, as well as
drug-cycle effects, also need to be considered in the
overall assessment and management strategy.
Assessment starts with the clinical evaluation and can
be supplemented by further investigation, such as
cervical auscultation/modified barium swallow
videofluoroscopy/Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of
Swallowing (FEES).
Management of swallowing disorders in Parkinson’s
has traditionally been through compensatory strategies
such as the following:
Maximising body posture and head position, to be
as upright and central as possible. (Liaise with
physiotherapy and occupational therapy colleagues
on positioning and optimum seating.)
Giving advice on adapting consistencies, linking
with the dietitian to ensure that the most nutritional
and safest-to-swallow consistencies are provided.
Oral phase impairment with lingual disorders are likely
to make chewing and hard consistencies difficult to
manage, although this has to be assessed on an
individual basis. Assessment with thickeners may also
be needed if thin fluids are difficult to manage.
Bolus size should be considered. Some studies
have found that increased bolus size reduces
pharyngeal delay, possibly due to increased
stimulation of the sensory receptors (El Sharkawi
et al, 2002).
Liaising with dietitian and multidisciplinary team on
food and fluid intake – slowness, fatigue and lack
of concentration may affect intake and smaller
high-calorie snacks may be more appropriate.
Giving a verbal, timely oral routine to the swallow
is sometimes helpful, particularly where cognitive
deficits are present.
Trying strong flavours or ice-cold drinks to help
trigger the swallow.
Alerting carers/staff to the signs of aspiration and
ensuring they are informed of emergency measures
for choking.
If patients complain of food sticking in the pharynx,
try different techniques such as altering head
posture or taking solid followed by liquid swallows/
dry swallows to clear residue building up in pharynx.
Teaching carers ‘safe feeding’ techniques if the
person with Parkinson’s is unable to feed
themselves, because a dependency upon others for
feeding has been shown to put people at higher risk
of aspiration pneumonia (Langmore et al, 1998).
Emphasising the importance of good oral
hygiene with regular dental check-ups (Langmore
et al, 1998).
Medication – no Parkinson’s medications are currently
available in syrup form and controlled-release tablets
cannot be crushed. Dispersible Madopar can be
dissolved and thickened, if easier to swallow. In cases
of severe dysphagia, an apomorphine injection or
nasogastric feeding with dispersible Madopar
may need to be considered. Other methods of
administering medications for Parkinson’s are being
investigated at present.
Ensure clear verbal and written advice is available to
carers/staff, based on individual assessment – these
suggestions are, by necessity, general and need to be
adapted for each individual.
In addition to these compensatory strategies, there has
been anecdotal evidence from patients and, more
recently, a study (El Sharkawi et al, 2002) that showed
that swallowing improved following LSVT. Pre- and posttreatment evaluation by videofluoroscopy showed a 51%
overall reduction in the number of swallowing motility
disorders. It was suggested this may be due to improved
neuromuscular control and an overflow of effort from the
increased activity of the programme.
Alerting carers/staff to the likelihood of food
pocketing and to oral hygiene issues and being
aware of medications that may cause dryness.
Saliva management
Drooling, sometimes described in medical literature as
hypersialorrhoea, is a relatively common symptom for
people with Parkinson’s and can be both distressing
and embarrassing.
Drooling has been found to be the result of swallowing
difficulty rather than production of excess saliva (Proulx
et al, 2005) and there are a number of strategies –
therapeutic, pharmacological and surgical – available.
The speech and language therapist needs to assess
the severity and impact on the patient of the drooling –
often present in the later stages – and liaise with
medical and health colleagues for ways to reduce it,
continuing to monitor and evaluate as appropriate.
Initially, therapeutic methods, such as addressing posture
and head positioning with physiotherapy colleagues, can
be used, as can using cues to remind patients to swallow
– some therapists have tried an electronic reminder, such
as the metronome brooch (Marks et al, 2001). If a lot of
fluid is being lost through drooling, the importance of
compensating for this by extra fluid intake needs to be
emphasised to patient and carer(s).
Pharmacological – Hyoscine patches are often tried
first, although they can have side effects of confusion
and hallucination, particularly among older people.
Sublingual atropine has been shown to reduce saliva
production effectively, both objectively and subjectively,
but there can occasionally be side effects (Hyson et al,
2002). These are simple to administer as drops, given
orally under the tongue, and are a non-invasive and
inexpensive option.
Botulinum toxin injections into the parotid/submandibular
gland can be given to reduce saliva, with some effect,
for people with severe drooling (Lipp et al, 2003), the
down side being that the effects wear off and repeat
injections are needed every few months. The Botulinum
toxin may also spread into the pharyngeal musculature
and cause difficulty with swallowing.
Surgical excision of the salivary glands or duct
rerouting has been used in some cases but, as a
surgical procedure, is not usually a preferred option
for older, later-stage Parkinson’s patients.
Speech and language therapy checklist
Name :
Date of assessment :
1 Communication environment
2 Communication needs
3 Patient perceptions on their
4 Physical
– tremor
– rigidity
– bradykinesia
– posture/symmetry
– gait
– balance
5 Speech
– hearing
– vision
Summary dysarthria assessment:
– intelligibility
– voice
– volume
– respiration / ss / _ _ _ secs
/ ah / _ _ _ secs
– prosody
– facial expression/gaze
– palilalia
– initiation difficulties
– freezing
6 Cognition and language
– memory
– orientation
– insight
– self-monitoring
– writing
7 Dysphagia
– consistencies
– appetite
– weight loss
– chest infections
– nutritional/aspiration risk
– posture
– saliva management
8 Medication and drug cycle
Variability of:
– physical state
– speech
– swallowing
– cognition
– best time of day
– wearing-off effect
– ‘on/off’ syndrome
– factors affecting variability
/ah/ normal volume
/ah/ loudest volume
Counting aloud 1–20
Reading aloud sentences
Picture description/conversation
– strategies used
Useful contacts
Network of local centres around the UK
Tel: 01926 312847
Frenchay Communication Aid Centre
SLT Department
Frenchay Hospital
BS16 1LE
Tel: 0117 340 3946
Find a Voice
49 Beaver Lane
TN23 5NU
Tel: 01233 640443
Relevant resources from the PDS
Information sheets
Communication (code FS06)
Computers, the Internet and Useful Websites (code FS60)
Eating, Swallowing and Saliva Control in Parkinson’s (code FS22)
Handwriting and Parkinson’s (code FS23)
Speech and Language Therapy (code FS07)
References and further reading
Blonsky Eet al (1975) ‘Comparison of speech and swallowing function in individuals with tremor disorders and in
normal geriatric individuals; a cinefluorographic study’ Journal Gerontology; 30:299–303
Blumin JH et al (2004) ‘Laryngeal findings in advanced Parkinson’s disease’ The Annals of Otology, Rhinology
and Laryngology; 113(4):253–258
Brown RG & Marsden CD (1988) ‘An investigation of the phenomenon ‘set’ in Parkinson’s disease’ Movement
Disorders; 3:152–161
Casper JK & Colton RH (2000) ‘Current understanding and treatment of phonatory disorders in geriatric
populations’ Current opinion in Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery; 8(3):158–164
Darley FL et al (1969) ‘Differential diagnostic patterns of dysarthria’ Journal of Speech and Hearing Research;
El Sharkawi A et al (2002) ‘Swallowing and voice effects of Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT): A pilot study’
Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry; 72:31–36
Fimm B et al (1994) ‘Different mechanisms underlie shifting set on external and internal cues in Parkinson’s
disease’ Brain and Cognition; 25:287–304
Fox CM et al (2002) ‘Current perspectives on the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) for individuals with
idiopathic Parkinson disease’ American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology; 11(2):111–122
Goetz CG et al (2002) ‘Treatment of depression in idiopathic Parkinson’s disease’ Movement Disorders;
Hammen VL & Yorkston KM (1996) ‘Speech and pause characteristics following speech rate reduction in
hypokinetic dysarthria’ Journal of Communication Disorders; 29:439–444
Holmes RJ et al (2000) ‘Voice characteristics in the progression of Parkinson’s disease’ International Journal of
Language & Communication Disorders; 35(3):407–418
Hyson HC et al (2002) ‘Sublingual atropine for sialorrhea secondary to parkinsonism: a pilot study’ Movement
Disorders; 17(6):1318–1320
Johnson JA & Pring TR (1990) ‘Speech therapy and Parkinson’s disease: a review and further data’ The British
Journal of Disorders of Communication; 25:183–194
Langmore SE et al (1998) ‘Predictors of aspiration pneumonia. How important is dysphagia?’, Dysphagia: 13:69–81
Lees AJ (1994) ‘The concept of bradyphrenia’ Revue Neurologique; 150:823–826
Lieberman A et al (1980) Ergot compounds and brain function in Neurendocrine and Neuropsychiatric Aspects,
New York, Raven Press
Liotti M et al (2003) ‘Hypophonia in Parkinson’s disease: Neural correlates of voice treatment revealed by PET’
Neurology; 60(3):432–440
Lipp A et al (2003) ‘A randomized trial of botulinim toxin. A for treatment of drooling’ Neurology; 61(9)1279–1281
Logemann JA et al (1975) ‘Dysphagia in Parkinsonism’ Journal of the American Medical Association; 231;69–70
Logemann JA et al (1978) ‘Frequency and concurrence of vocal tract dysfunctions in the speech of a large
sample of Parkinson patients’ Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders; 43:47–57
Logemann JA (1988) ‘Dysphagia in movement disorders’ in: Advances in Neurology (Vol 49), Raven Press,
New York
Mahler ME & Cummings JL (1990) ‘Alzheimer’s disease and the dementia of Parkinson’s disease; comparative
investigations’ Alzheimer’s Disease and Associated Disorders; 4:133–149
Manor Y et al (2005) ‘A group intervention model for speech and communication skills in patients with
Parkinson’s disease: initial observations’ Communication Disorders Quarterly; 26(2):94–104
Marks L et al (2001) ‘Drooling in Parkinson’s disease: a novel speech and language therapy intervention’
International Journal of Language Communication Disorders; 36(Supp):282–287
McDonald W et al (2003) ‘Prevalence, etiology and treatment of depression in Parkinson’s disease’ Society of
Biological Psychiatry; 54:363–375
Murray LL et al (2000) ‘Spoken language production in Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease’ Journal Speech
and Hearing Research; 43:1350–1366
Mutch WJ et al (1986) ‘Parkinson’s disease: disability, review and management’ British Medical Journal;
Oxtoby M (1982) Parkinson’s Disease Patients and their Social Needs, Parkinson’s Disease Society of the United
Pentland B et al (1987) ‘The effects of reduced expression in Parkinson’s disease on impression formation by
health professionals’ Clinical Rehabilitation; 1:307–313
Pinto S et al (2004) ‘Subthalmic nucleus stimulation and dysarthria in Parkinson’s disease: a PET study’ Brain;
Proulx et al M (2005) ‘Salivary production in Parkinson’s disease’ Movement Disorders; 20(2):204–207
Ramig LO et al (2001) ‘Intensive voice treatment (LSVT) for patients with Parkinson’s disease: a two-year followup’ Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry; 71(4):493–498
Spielman JL et al (2003) ‘The effects of intensive voice treatment on facial expressiveness in Parkinson’s disease:
preliminary data’ Cognitive and Behavioural Neurology; 16(3):177–188
To stop their condition getting out of control,
people with Parkinson’s need their medication
on time – every time
Whether in a hospital or care home setting, effective medicines management is crucial to the
wellbeing of people with Parkinson’s.
Poor medicines management can lead to the worsening of symptoms and increased care needs.
The Parkinson’s Disease Society has advice and support to help you meet medication
management standards for Parkinson’s patients.
Best practice for managing Parkinson’s medication can also be applied to other conditions.
Act now…
Contact us for a ‘Get it on time’ campaign pack, to talk to local people with Parkinson’s
about their experiences of hospital or nursing home stays, or for best practice advice.
Email [email protected] or call 020 7963 9332.
© Parkinson’s Disease Society of the United Kingdom, 2007
Charity registered in England and Wales No. 258197 and in Scotland No. SC037554
A company limited by guarantee. Registered No. 948776 (London)
Registered Office: 215 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 1EJ
Tel: 020 7931 8080 Fax: 020 7233 9908 PDS Helpline (free): 0808 800 0303 Textphone: 0800 111 4204
email: [email protected] website:
November 2007 Code B126